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October 31st, 2018:

Early voting, Day 9: Who are these people?

The question keeps getting asked, who is it that has been voting so far?

An unprecedented number of Texans cast their ballots during the first week of early voting, but it is impossible to predict whether that surge will benefit Republicans or Democrats because more than 25 percent of the voters have no primary election voting history, an analysis of data from the Secretary of State shows.

People whose voting records provide no clue of their party affiliation cast 27.8 percent of the ballots in the 15 most populous counties in Texas, according to the analysis by Republican consultant Derek Ryan.

About one-third of the early voters in those counties had voted in a Republican primary in the past; for Democrats, it was 30 percent. Those percentages are consistent with early voting totals from the last midterm primary, in 2014, Ryan said.

But the 2018 numbers leave too many unknowns to draw conclusions, Ryan said.

“Unless somebody’s out there polling those people and calling them, there’s really no way necessarily to know if those people are voting Republican or Democrat,” Ryan said. “The same goes for the people that have primary history. Just because somebody voted in a Republican primary, it doesn’t always necessarily mean that they’re a Republican or that they are voting for all the Republicans on the ballot.”

In Harris County, 30 percent of early voters had no primary voting history. Thirty-three percent of early voters in the county most recently voted in a Republican primary, compared to 28.6 percent who most recently voted in a Democratic primary.

In Bexar County, 28.5 percent of early voters had no primary voting history. For those who have cast ballots in primary elections before, 29.3 percent most recently voted in a Republican primary, compared to 32.6 percent who most recently voted in a Democratic primary.

The 15-county analysis also found an increase in voters with Hispanic surnames. Those voters have cast 19 percent of the ballots in early voting so far; in 2014, 15.2 percent of early voters in Texas had Hispanic surnames.

In the 2018 election, People aged 60 to 69 made up 21 percent of early voters so far, the largest age group, the 15-county analysis shows. Voters aged 50-59 made up the second largest group at just under 20 percent, and voters aged 40-49 percent made up the third largest group at about 15 percent. Early voters aged 20-29 made up about 8 percent. This breakdown was consistent with totals for the 2014 midterm elections.

One point to bear in mind when pondering the people with no primary history: In 2016, 2.8 million people voted in the Republican primary in Texas. That means that the no-primary-history people are not from that group. The comparable figure from 2016 for Dems is 1.4 million people. It’s true that in 2008, some 2.8 million people voted in the Democratic primary, but that was five election cycles ago. There are a lot of people who have voted in Texas elections since then who could not or did not participate in the 2008 primary.

I don’t want to draw any broad inferences from that. There were still about two million people who voted mostly Republican in November of 2016 but not in March, and a bit more than that on the Democratic side. The people with no primary history are mostly evidence of a larger electorate, for which I think we can all agree we already have evidence. There is evidence of more younger voters and of unlikely voters. I’ll say that benefits Democrats, but remember that Dems can do a lot better in 2018 than they did in 2014 and still fall short.

So. Here are the totals for Tuesday, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  45,219  250,066  295,285
2014  60,400  191,432  251,832
2018  80,279  557,264  637,543

2008  47,413  443,267  490,680
2012  59,304  491,349  550,653
2016  86,456  626,627  713,083

A little less than Monday, but still 62K in person and 64K overall. By tomorrow, barring a complete dropoff, we will surpass the entire final turnout for 2014. By Friday, even if there isn’t the usual end-of-early-voting surge and we stay on the same pace as now, we’ll surpass the entire final turnout for 2010. Have I mentioned that we were breaking records and the only real question was by how much? This is what I mean. Things are pretty brisk in Dallas County, too. Have you voted yet?

Zerwas out, Bonnen in for Speaker

A harbinger of intrigue.

Rep. John Zerwas

State Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond Republican, has withdrawn from the race for speaker of the Texas House, he confirmed to The Texas Tribune on Sunday evening.

“I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to engage with the members of the House. The honest conversations are critical to the relationships I have, and I am honored to work with such principled leaders,” he said in a statement to the Tribune. “While I believe that I could lead the House through a successful 2019 session, it has come time for me to end my bid for Speaker and wholly focus on writing the budget for the 2020-2021 biennium.”

His departure comes amid an effort among roughly 40 GOP House members to draft state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, into the race. Bonnen did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Texas Tribune.

On Sunday night, that group of 40 members was scheduled to gather in Austin to discuss recruiting him for the job. Bonnen previously had told The Texas Tribune in May that he was not interested in running for the top slot in the lower chamber. The Tribune was told Sunday night that Bonnen was not at the meeting.

There are still a lot of Speaker wannabes. Zerwas was the first among them, declaring his intent to run right after Joe Straus announced his departure. My speculation when I read this was that the various Straus-like candidates have concluded their best move is to consolidate behind one candidate that they think can win, someone who Democrats and enough Republicans can support, so as to pre-empt the non-Straus contenders. For that to happen, to assuage egos and whatnot, the compromise/consensus candidate would have to be someone who is not currently a candidate. And thus it was:

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, said Tuesday he is officially running for speaker of the Texas House — two days after an Oct. 28 meeting in Austin, where roughly 40 GOP House members gathered to discuss recruiting him for the job.

“Throughout my career in the House, I have always emphasized my respect for the institution as a whole as well as the unique position each member has to serve their district,” Bonnen said in a statement. “I look forward to the many conversations to come with members across the state. My desire, which I believe I share with the vast majority of my colleagues, is that this process come to a conclusion with a House ready to do the people’s business with strength, resolve, and unity in the 86th Legislative Session.”

Clearly, they were sufficiently persuasive. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is more or less how Straus emerged as a contender for Speaker in the first place – the dozen or so renegade Republicans who were publicly gunning for Tom Craddick emerged from a meeting with him as their exemplar, and after that it was all a matter of counting noses. We’ll see if it works.

“The least-discussed vulnerable Republican on the ballot”

From Grits:

Grits does not expect Beto O’Rourke to win. But if he were to pull off the upset, many other dominos could fall in succession as a result, with at least three Republican senators, Texas’ Attorney General, and potentially even the Lt. Governor at risk. Another race likely to flip if Dem turnout goes that high is Presiding Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Incumbent Sharon Keller won her primary with only 52% of the vote, and CCA races have consistently been among the lowest vote-getters over the years among Republican statewide officials. There is no Libertarian in the race, so the Democrat, Maria Jackson, should get all the anti-incumbent vote. If, on election night, the US Senate race at the top of the ticket is competitive, or heaven forbid, Beto pulls an upset, check down the ballot for this race; it may flip, too.

It’s a little more complicated than that. The basis of this idea, which Grits has advanced before, is that in past elections Republicans have tended to drop off and not vote in downballot races more than Democrats have. If that is the case, and if the top of the ticket features a close race, then it stands to reason that other statewide races would be closer, and might even flip. I made the same observation early in the 2016 cycle when the polls were more favorable to Hillary Clinton in Texas. We seem to be headed for a close race at the top of the ticket this year, so could this scenario happen?

Well, lots of things can happen, but let’s run through the caveats first. First and foremost, Republicans don’t undervote in downballot races at the same pace in off years as they do in Presidential years. Here’s how the judicial vote totals from 2014 compared to the top of the ticket:


2014

Abbott - 2,796,547
Davis - 1,835,596

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Hecht         2,757,218    39,329     1.4%
Brown         2,772,824    23,723     0.8%
Boyd          2,711,363    85,184     3.0%
Richardson    2,738,412    58,135     2.1%

Moody         1,720,343   115,253     6.3%
Meyers        1,677,478   158,118     8.6%
Benavides     1,731,031   104,565     5.7%
Granberg      1,671,921   163,375     8.9%

Maybe if the hot race that year had been more closely contested we’d see something more like what we’ve seen in Presidential years, but so far this isn’t encouraging for that hypothesis.

The other issue is that it’s clear from polling that Beto is getting some number of Republican votes. That’s great for him and it’s a part of why that race is winnable for him, but the Republicans who vote for Beto are probably going to vote for mostly Republicans downballot. The end result of that is judicial candidates who outperform the guy at the top. Like what happened in 2016:


Trump    = 4,685,047
Lehrmann = 4,807,986
Green    = 4,758,334
Guzman   = 4,884,441
Keel     = 4,790,800
Walker   = 4,782,144
Keasler  = 4,785,012

So while Trump carried Texas by nine points, these judicial candidates were winning by about 15 points. Once more, not great for this theory.

Now again, nine points isn’t that close, or at least not close enough for this scenario to be likely. (I had suggested a maximum six-point spread in 2016.) Nine points in this context is probably a half million votes, and undervoting isn’t going to cut it for making up that much ground. But if Beto is, say, within four points (or, praise Jeebus, he wins), and if the reason he’s that close is primarily due to base Democratic turnout being sky high and not anti-Cruz Republicans, then the rest of the statewide ballot becomes very interesting. I personally would bet on Ken Paxton or Sid Miller going down before one of the Supreme Court or CCA justices, but the closer we are to 50-50, the more likely that anything really can happen. You know what you need to do to make that possible.

Translators

I wish there were a better way to handle this.

The Harris County Clerk’s office on Monday defended a decision by election workers to bar translators offering assistance to Korean-American voters from a Spring Branch polling site the day before.

The county said translators are free to approach voters outside the 100-foot protected zone at each polling place, but Dona Kim Murphey of the Korean-American Association of Houston said Harris County is too strict in its interpretation of the Texas Election Code.

“Nowhere does it say we can’t offer that translation at the entrance of the facility,” Murphey said. “That is unacceptable.”

Local Korean-language outlets urged voters to cast ballots at the Trini Mendenhall Community Center on Sunday because translators, including Murphey, would be there to provide assistance. She said poll workers barred the group of translators from asking Korean speakers in line if they needed help.

The translators were permitted to approach voters in the parking lot, but Murphey estimated they were only able to help 40 to 50 Korean speakers instead of the hundreds they had planned. Several thousand Korean-Americans reside in Spring Branch, and more than 30,000 live in the Houston area.

Douglas Ray, a deputy in the Harris County Attorney’s Office, said the translators were considered loiterers under the Texas Election Code when they were inside the polling place, because they lacked a “legitimate business purpose” for being there. The code bars loitering and electioneering — advocating for a particular cause or candidate — within the 100-foot protection zone.

[…]

Voters are permitted to bring translators for assistance, so long as they swear an oath to translate accurately. Ray said the problem arose Sunday because the translators were asking voters if they needed help, instead of the other way around. Though journalists and exit pollsters are permitted to speak to voters waiting in line, with the permission of poll workers, Ray said translators offering help are prohibited.

Ray said translators are free to offer their services to voters at any point before they enter the 100-foot zone.

“We just don’t want them to solicit inside the polling place,” he said.

Sam Taylor, spokesman for the Texas secretary of state’s office, said the election code supports Harris County’s rationale because a translator who has yet to be requested by a voter does not meet the description of an authorized person who is permitted at a polling place.

See here for an earlier story. I suspect the county’s interpretation of the law is accurate, though perhaps there’s room for a little slack. More likely, I’d say this law was built on some less-than-progressive assumptions and could use a revamp by the Legislature. Wouldn’t be the first time this was the case. I’d like to see someone give this a thorough review and put forth a bill that makes it easier for well-meaning volunteers like the folks from the Korean American Association of Houston to help the people who need it at the polls.