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October 28th, 2018:

Weekend link dump for October 28

“One of the central contradictions of capitalism is that what makes it work — competition — is also what capitalists want to get rid of the most.”

“Thing is, Trump may indeed be nuts; but his constant lying is perhaps the least nutty thing about him. His relentless dishonesty works.”

“All of which is to say that Scott Warren has a far stronger claim as to the sincerity of his religious beliefs than Hobby Lobby did.”

“Was Gary Hart Set Up?” Maybe. Read and see what you think.

One Hundred Websites that Shaped The Internet As We Know It.

RIP, Joachim Ronneberg, Norwegian resistance fighter who sabotaged Nazi Germany’s nuclear weapons ambitions during World War Two.

Hey, remember when Donald Trump claimed to be a champion of LGBT rights?

So many things to investigate, so much need to take the House majority back to do them.

“Why is a congressman from Iowa weighing in on local politics in another country? Because there’s an outright white nationalist running for mayor in Toronto, and wherever an explicit white nationalist is running for office — in the U.S., in Canada, in Austria or France — Steve King feels compelled to lend his support.”

“I will build the best sandcastle in the galaxy!”

“As usual, the correct response to all this is ‘poor Blake Bortles.'”

“Mr. Trump’s aides have repeatedly warned him that his cellphone calls are not secure, and they have told him that Russian spies are routinely eavesdropping on the calls, as well. But aides say the voluble president, who has been pressured into using his secure White House landline more often these days, has still refused to give up his iPhones. White House officials say they can only hope he refrains from discussing classified information when he is on them.” What could possibly go wrong?

“Firstly, to Ernest Lawrence Thayer, a man whom I have never met but is apparently obsessed with me: Thank you so much for taking the ONE TIME I messed up at baseball and turning it into an incredibly long poem. What a wonderful use of your creative faculties. You seem like a very chill person.”

“An image on the explosive device sent to former CIA Director John Brennan on Tuesday appears to be a parody of an ISIS flag taken from a meme that has been circulating on right-wing corners of the internet since 2014.”

Please don’t bring Grandma’s cremated ashes into Disney World.

A look at the last time the Red Sox and the team now known as the Dodgers played in the World Series.

RIP, Ovide Duncantell, founder of Houston’s Black Heritage Society and the nation’s first parade to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

Day 6 early voting: A very early stab at projecting turnout

This is the point in the early voting process where early voting hours expand, and as a result daily EV reports come in later. That may affect my ability to present the latest data each day, so I’m going to break the pattern today and engage in one of my favorite exercise, which is to use the data we have so far and make some wild guesses about where we may end up. Let’s take a look back at the first five days of early voting from the past elections we’ve been tracking, and see what fraction of the final EV total they were, and then how much of the complete vote was cast during the EV period. We begin with a table:


Year  5 Day EV  Final EV  5 Day%
================================
2010   164,190   447,701  36.67%
2014   158,399   379,282  41.76%

2008   260,105   746,061  34.86%
2012   313,405   777,067  40.33%
2016   452,124   985,571  45.87%

I’ve separated the Presidential years from the non-Presidential years because we generally have very different electorates in each, and as such the behavior of one crowd may not be that predictive of the other. This year sure seems more like a Presidential year, so we’ll take all the numbers into account. The other factor, as you can see above, is that there has been a steady shift towards more and earlier early voting. Week 2 of early voting is always busier than Week 1, though that is becoming less the case. My guess is that we’ll see a pattern more like 2014 or 2016, but we can take a broader range of possibility into account:

380,266 at 35% = 1,086,474
380,266 at 40% = 950,665
380,266 at 45% = 845,035
380,266 at 50% = 760,532

I have a hard time believing we’ve already seen half of the early votes, but it’s possible. I think the third possibility, which would be approximately what we saw in 2016, is the most likely, though as with all things this year I hesitate to be too definitive. Note that outside of the last scenario, the early voting total will surpass the entire turnout for any off year in Harris County. The question here is not whether we’ll break records, it’s by how much.

The other side of this equation is projecting final turnout from EV turnout. We go once again to the historic data:

2016 = 73.61% early
2014 = 55.13% early
2012 = 64.53% early
2010 = 56.03% early
2008 = 62.76% early

Again we see a distinction between the Presidential and non-Presidential years, and again we see a trend towards more of the vote being cast early, 2014 notwithstanding. So again, we consider a range of possibilties:

760,532 at 75% = 1,014,082
845,035 at 75% = 1,126,713
950,665 at 75% = 1,267,553
1,086,474 at 75% = 1,448,632

760,532 at 65% = 1,170,049
845,035 at 65% = 1,300,053
950,665 at 65% = 1,462,561
1,086,474 at 65% = 1,671,498

I’m basically assuming this will be more like a Presidential year in terms of when people vote. It makes no sense to me that we’ll have nearly half the vote cast on November 6, so I’m not going to calculate a 55% scenario. Even with the most conservative projections, we’re on pace to top one million, and beating past Presidential years is within range. Final turnout in 2008 was 1,188,731, and it is certainly possible we could top that. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that 2016’s mark of 1,338,898 could be exceeded, but I can’t rule it out. Ask me again after early voting is done. Like I said, it’s not a question of whether we’ll break records, but by how much.

UPDATE: The Saturday EV totals came in a bit before 9. Google Drive is being unresponsive so I can’t give you a link, but I can tell you there were 8,646 mail ballots received, 79,641 in person votes cast, and the overall total is up to 468,549, which is more than the entire EV turnout of 2010. As the man once said, hold onto your butts.

The eSlate issue

Everyone please take a deep breath.

Some straight-ticket voters have reported that voting machines recorded them selecting the candidate of another party for U.S. Senate, exposing a potential problem with the integrity of the state’s high-profile contest between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Congressman Beto O’Rourke and leading good government groups to sound the alarm.

Several Democratic voters, for example, have complained the voting system indicated they were about to cast a vote for Cruz, a Republican, instead of Democrat O’Rourke as they prepared to send it. Some said they were able to get help from staff at the polling place and change their votes back to what they intended before finalizing their ballots.

Most of the 15 to 20 people who have complained to the state so far said that their straight-ticket ballot left their vote for U.S. Senate blank, according to Sam Taylor, communications director for the Secretary of State. A spokesman for the Texas Civil Rights Project said the group has received about a half dozen complaints, mostly of Democratic straight ticket voters whose ballots erroneously included a vote for Cruz, and one Republican straight ticket voter whose ballot tabulated a vote for O’Rourke.

The problem occurs on the Hart eSlate voting machine when voters turn a selection dial and hit the “enter” button simultaneously, according to the state. Eighty-two of the 254 counties in Texas have these machines, although complaints have only come from Fort Bend, Harris, McLennan, Montgomery, Tarrant and Travis counties, according to Taylor.

The issue with the eSlate machine first surfaced in the 2016 presidential election. The Secretary of State’s office described it as user error at that time, and said the same of this year’s problems in an advisory sent to election workers issued this week.

“It does pop up from time to time,” said Taylor. Voters should “double and triple check and slow down” before casting their ballots, he said.

Although the state sent the advisory, the Civil Rights Project contends that more should be done to ensure voters understand the potential for wrongly recorded votes.

The group is pushing the state to post advisories to inform voters at the polls about the problem, and how to detect it.

“This is not an isolated issue but a symptom of a wider breakdown in Texas’s election systems,” said Beth Stevens, the organization’s voting rights director. “Texas voters should have full confidence that when they use a voting machine they are indeed casting their ballot of choice.”

I would dispute that this problem first surfaced in the 2016 election. We’ve heard a variation of problems like this going back to at least 2008. Here’s a post I wrote back then, in which there was confusion – some of which was being spread intentionally – about voting straight ticket and then clicking again on Obama/Biden, which of course would have the effect of canceling the vote in that race. This particular complaint may be relatively new, but reports of the voting machines not doing what the voters thought they were going to do have literally always been with us. It’s one part bad interface design, and one part user error.

The solution – for now – really is to review your ballot before you press the “cast vote” button. I do that in every election, because it’s always possible to not click what you thought you’d clicked, just like it’s possible to do that on your computer or tablet or cellphone. Election officials can and should do a more thorough job of educating voters about the voting machines – there are always new voters, and there are always voters who are not confident with electronic gadgets, and these people have as much right to vote the way they want to vote as anyone else – but the bottom line remains the same. Review your ballot before you commit to it, just like you review other transactions.

Here’s that advisory from the Secretary of State, and here’s the press release and letter to the SOS from the Texas Civil Rights Project. The TCRP is 100% correct that Texas needs to upgrade its voting machines, both to improve the interface and also to bolster security. As someone who works in cybersecurity, it’s unthinkable that we have voting systems that provide neither redundancy nor an audit trail. We know what a better system looks like, we just need a government that is willing to invest in it. We just need to vote in sufficient numbers to make that happen. The Trib has more.

Harris County makes its robot brothel ban official

We can all sleep more soundly now.

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday unanimously adopted new rules to prevent so-called “robot brothels” from opening and more strictly regulate sexually oriented businesses in unincorporated areas.

The county already had been revising its sexually oriented business rules, first adopted in 1996, but decided to specifically address lifelike sex dolls for rent after Toronto-based company KinkySdollsS considered opening a Houston branch where patrons could try out human-like “adult love dolls” in private rooms at the shop.

[…]

Assistant County Attorney Celena Vinson said the county largely adopted language Houston’s legal department had written.

“We wanted to address the sex robot shop that was allegedly going to open in the city, and wanted to ensure our regulations were consistent with what the city of Houston was doing,” Vinson said.

The changes now clearly define sex dolls like the ones advertised by the Toronto firm as “anthropomorphic devices” and prohibit companies from renting them out to customers. Residents of the city and county remain free to purchase such devices for use in their own homes.

See here, here, and here for the background. Despite my best efforts, I still don’t have anything useful to say about this. I just can’t resist blogging about it, and Lord knows we can use the occasional respite from the real news. You’re welcome.

Endorsement watch: Fort Bend DA

One last recommendation.

Brian Middleton

The race for Fort Bend District Attorney presents voters with a choice that’s starting to feel familiar in Texas politics: An experienced Republican who represents the past and an upstart Democrat who wants to welcome the future.

In this race voters should go with the Democrat, Brian M. Middleton, because of his openness to new ideas in the realm of criminal justice.

Republican Cliff Vacek has decades of experience as an attorney, including overseeing a large law firm and serving as a district judge for 10 years with concurrent civil and criminal jurisdiction. He is board certified in personal injury law and received his law degree from the University of Houston Law Center. No doubt he has the resume to serve, but Vacek is skeptical of changes happening in our criminal courthouses. Practices that are routine in Harris County, under both Republicans and Democrats, are uncommon in Fort Bend and he likes it that way. For example, he told us that pretrial diversion — which helps people avoid convictions — should rarely be used.

For Vacek, the biggest problem in the Fort Bend courts are that it takes too long to get cases to trial.

[…]

What really convinced us was watching the two candidates sit side-by-side during the candidate screening and discuss drug policy.

Middleton said he though that low-level possession of marijuana should result in an automatic personal recognisance bond, an in-court assessment and, if appropriate, pre-trial diversion.

Vacek, on the other hand, spoke like a drug warrior and referred to marijuana as “a gateway drug.”

Times are changing, Fort Bend is changing, and the District Attorney’s Office needs a leader who is willing to change, too.

See here for some background. As we know, there have been a lot of reform-minded DAs getting elected around the country in the last couple of years, including here is Harris County. Most of them have been in heavily Democratic counties, with the wins coming in primaries. Winning in Fort Bend would be a new frontier for the criminal justice reform movement.