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Chad Dunn

So what will the Justice Department do with voter ID now?

We don’t know yet.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Hours after President Donald Trump was inaugurated, the Department of Justice filed to postpone a hearing on the Texas Voter ID law. The request was granted. The DOJ had previously argued that the law intentionally discriminated against minority voters, but told the court it needed additional time for the new administration to “brief the new leadership of the Department on this case and the issues to be addressed at that hearing before making any representations to the Court.”

Chad Dunn, attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, expects Trump’s Department of Justice to reverse course. “I figure the government will spend the next 30 days figuring out how to change its mind,” he said, adding that now he expects the DOJ to argue on behalf of the state of Texas, which has held that there was no intent to discriminate against minorities. “The facts did not change – just the personnel.”

The new hearing date has been set for Feb. 28.

Myrna Perez is the deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and leader of the center’s Voting Rights and Elections project. The Brennan Center was also set to offer oral arguments against the ID law on Tuesday, and Perez said she was “disappointed” with the DOJ’s decision to postpone the hearing. “Numerous courts have held that this law harms minority voters in Texas and we think delaying resolution of this case in that matter isn’t good for Texans,” she said.

[…]

The DOJ had previously argued that the law violated the Voting Rights Act and was intended to directly impact the abilities of minorities to vote, as more than 600,000 of them lacked the ID necessary under state law to vote. Dunn now expects the agency to reverse course.

Trump has not yet had an opportunity to nominate, let alone see confirmed, new judges.

“I don’t expect the outcome of this case to change because we’ve elected a new president,” Dunn said. “For people like me who handle civil rights case and the many who came before me to who did the same, we’re used to fighting against government at all its levels.”

See here for the background. It would be a shame, though it would hardly be a surprise, if the Justice Department changed course. I mean, this is GOP doctrine now, and you can’t send any clearer a signal than appointing Jefferson Beauregard Sessions as AG. It would be nice for the Justice Department to stay on the right side of this, but in the end I think Chad Dunn is correct. The facts haven’t changed, and the plaintiffs have had plenty of experience fighting against the government. Vox has more.

State ordered to pay fees in redistricting litigation

They don’t seem to be interested in doing that, however.

BagOfMoney

In a scolding tone, a federal appeals court panel in Washington, D.C., ordered the state of Texas on Tuesday to pay more than $1 million in attorneys’ fees in a case challenging district boundaries drawn by the Republican-led Legislature.

First under the direction of then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and now under Attorney General Ken Paxton, the state has been fighting a court order for more than a year to pay the lawyers who battled the state over the issuance of redistricting maps for the Texas House, Texas Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

A spokeswoman for Paxton, Cynthia Meyer, didn’t specify the state’s next steps. In an email, she said only: “This decision is disappointing for the state of Texas.”

A group of Hispanic Texans suing the state known as the “Gonzales intervenors” expects to take nearly $600,000 of the $1 million-plus in ordered fees from the state. A group that was led by former state Sen. Wendy Davis and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, both Fort Worth Democrats, should be awarded $466,680, and the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches is owned $32,374, according to the court. The groups argued that boundaries were drawn to dilute the voting power of Hispanics and African-Americans.

Attorney Chad Dunn, a lawyer for the Davis group, said that he and other lawyers have repeatedly asked the attorney general’s office to pay the fees — only to be stonewalled, even in the face of a court order, issued in June 2014.

“If you or I or anybody else had done that, we would lose,” Dunn said. “What the D.C. Circuit has made clear is that Texas has to follow the same rules as any other litigant.”

Judge Patricia Millett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit admonished the state for its refusal to file the proper documents, and the court seemed to chide the state’s lawyers for filing an incomplete advisory.

By not following the rules, Texas has limited its options, the court said.

“(T)he district court held that Texas had conceded virtually all of the issues relevant to the motions for attorneys’ fees by deliberately choosing not to address them,” the court said. “Rejecting Texas’ cursory ‘Advisory’ argument, the district court granted the motions and awarded fees.”

[…]

The appeals court opinion comes a year after U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer’s order that criticized lawyers in Abbott’s office for submitting a legal brief that devoted more effort to complaining than answering the legal issues in the fight over lawyer fees.

“This matter presents a case study in how not to respond to a motion for attorney fees and costs,” Collyer, appointed by former President George W. Bush, said in the June 2014 order.

A spokeswoman for Abbott said at the time that Texas shouldn’t be made to pay other parties’ legal fees in a case the state considers that it won.

I guess that’s one way to get out of an order you don’t like. Just declare yourself the actual winner of the case, and thus not subject to any orders about attorneys’ fees. SCOTUSBlog has a succinct explanation of why Texas’ position was erroneous, at the end of a much longer discussion of overall case:

In June 2014, U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer in Washington ruled that the three groups of challengers were entitled to recover their attorney fees expenses from Texas. The filing by the state’s lawyers, the judge wrote, “fails to recognize that the limited holding of Shelby County did not resolve the issues here.”

It was not the court’s duty, the judge added, to ask Texas to come up with some reasons to oppose the attorney fee requested. “Texas has had every chance to oppose the fees and costs that the applicants seek,” she added, but “it instead opted to file a three-page advisory that ignored every argument of applicants except the applicability of Shelby County.”

Under local court rules, the judge found, Texas had forfeited its right to oppose the fee award because of its failure to make an argument against it. Finding the voters and officeholders to have prevailed, she awarded one group $597,715.60 in fee recovery, another group $466,680.36, and the third $32,374.05 — for a total just under $1.1 million. Those amounts, the judge ruled, were reasonable.

At Texas’s request, Judge Collyer put her order on hold so that the state could appeal.

That appeal ended on Tuesday, with the D.C. Circuit upholding the fee awards, concluding that the Supreme Court’s June 2013 order did not settle the Texas redistricting case and did not resolve who would be the “prevailing party” in that case.

The Justices’ order, the panel said, was like many others in similar cases. All that the Court meant by that action, the decision added, was that there had been intervening developments that might suggest a need for the lower court to reconsider. This was not a ruling on the redistricting dispute, according to the panel, and it added: “It certainly did not declare Texas the victor.”

So there you go. As far as getting the state to quit making stuff up and pay its bills, I have an idea for how to get Ken Paxton’s attention, if it pleases the court: Just threaten to hold him in contempt of court. Recent history suggests that he will move quickly to comply with whatever you order, whatever it takes to stay out of the pokey. Just a suggestion, no pressure or anything.

Still no injunction in voter registration lawsuit

Unfortunate.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A district judged erred by partially blocking the enforcement of new Texas voter registration laws while a lawsuit alleging that the laws suppress voting goes forward, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a 2-1 opinion Thursday that there was not enough evidence to allow a preliminary injunction preventing the enforcement of five registration law provisions.

Judge Edith Jones was joined by Judge Jerry Smith in the panel’s opinion. Judge W. Eugene Davis dissented, saying the state laws conflict with federal election laws.

An emergency three-judge panel blocked U.S. District Judge Greg Costa’s injunction before the November elections last year, leaving the final decision to Jones’ panel.

The lawsuit, which alleges that Texas laws make it difficult to register voters and that they violate the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, will go forward, civil rights attorney Chad Dunn said.

“I can assure you the case is gong to continue,” Dunn said. “Texas is now the only state in the country where it is a criminal offense to run an organized voter registration drive.”

See here for the last update, with links to earlier entries. The plaintiffs can ask for a review by the full panel, they can appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court, or they can accept it and proceed with the lawsuit. I don’t know what the best course of action is, but I remain optimistic for the final outcome. I’m not sure why the situation warrants optimism, but I feel that way anyway.

One place where optimism is more warranted is the state of voter registration here in Harris County. Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan invited a number of local bloggers in to talk about his office and ask any questions about it. One encouraging thing I heard was that the voter registration total for Harris County stands at approximately 1,980,000 as of today. That’s up from 1,942,566 in 2012, and breaks a pattern of registration declines in odd numbered years:

2004 – 1,876,296; 2005 – 1,849,820
2006 – 1,902,822; 2007 – 1,799,757
2008 – 1,892,656; 2009 – 1,881,112
2010 – 1,917,534; 2011 – 1,869,359

The Chron confirms the registration total as well. In addition, the office has already done 20 46 training sessions for deputy vote registrars – the minimum required by the state is one per month – and most impressively was able to get all three federal lawsuits against Harris County over its voter registration practices withdrawn by making a commitment to stopping past bad behavior and adhering to good practices going forward. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a Tax Assessor that has focused primarily on its duties and not on partisan matters. Sullivan made a promise to do that during the campaign, and so far he’s done a good job of keeping it. It’s a very positive accomplishment.

UPDATE: Corrected the number of deputy voter training sessions conducted. Please note that the “stopping past bad behavior” characterization is mine and not a quote from Mike Sullivan or anyone in his office. For other takes on our visit, see PDiddie, John Coby, and Greg.

The voter ID effect

The conventional wisdom is that we’re unlikely to see the full effect of the voter ID law until next year.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The true test of how voter ID will affect voters — and whether it will sway elections — won’t come next month after a special election in Edinburg.

And it might not even come this year.

That’s the assessment of at least one opposition leader, Chad Dunn, an attorney with Houston-based Brazil and Dunn who represents plaintiffs in a current lawsuit seeking to block the law. It requires voters to furnish one of several specified forms of ID before casting a ballot, the most common being a state-issued driver’s license or ID card.

It’s hard to determine the effect before next year’s state elections, Dunn added, because turnout for local elections is paltry. Elections have been held in Galveston and are ongoing in the Rio Grande Valley, but the true test will be a statewide or heavily contested election in a toss-up or majority-minority district.

“I don’t expect the law to be enjoined by the primary in March, or whenever it gets moved back because of redistricting,” Dunn said, linking voter ID and another volatile issue, the Legislature’s redistricting efforts, which are also tied up in litigation. The court battle makes it possible the primary elections could be delayed.

[…]

Also at play is how election officials handle complaints or missteps, Dunn said. In Bexar County, he said, officials are likely to resolve issues quickly regardless of political allegiance, race or any other factor. In others, not so much.

“In counties like Harris, which is completely on the voter suppression bandwagon, whatever problems there are, aren’t getting worked out,” he said.

I have some hope that new Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan will be more interested in the nuts and bolts aspect of his job and less interested in leading partisan warfare on voter registration than his predecessors were. You have to admit that the recent history of the county in regard to voting issues is not encouraging, however.

I do think that the upcoming city of Houston election will provide a test of the new law, assuming as noted that it hasn’t been enjoined; while the Justice Department has intervened in the litigation, so far no motion asking for an injunction has been filed. It’s not unreasonable to think that there could be 150,000 votes or more cast this year, vastly more than in Ediburg and that silly little Galveston election at which one local hack declared voter ID to have had no effect. The question is how to measure the effect. I can think of two things, one objective and one likely to be anecdotal at best. The objective way is to see how the number of provisional ballots compares to years past, especially the number of provisional ballots that get rejected. Remember, if you show up without an accepted form of ID, you can still cast a provisional ballot, but you have to show up later with a valid ID for it to be counted. Unfortunately, if there’s a publicly-viewable record of provisional ballots from past elections, I can’t find it. I know that data exists somewhere, and if there’s a spike in provisional ballots, that’s one indication that the law is having an effect. The anecdotal method is to collect stories from people who didn’t bother to vote or who decided to walk away rather than cast a provisional vote because they lacked the proper ID. I have no idea how to collect that kind of data, and to be honest I’d find it a little suspect if it were collected just by its very nature. But even if this can’t tell us much quantitatively, it has the potential to be a powerful kind of story anyway. We need to be talking to people and finding out what their experiences are. Whatever happens with the litigation and any potential legislative fixes from Congress, we can’t let what happens in the interim be overlooked or forgotten.

Appeal filed in country redistricting lawsuit

From the Chron:

Commissioners Court interim map

Activists who believe a now-adopted Harris County redistricting plan illegally dilutes Latino votes in the only Latino-opportunity commissioner precinct are set to appeal a ruling made at the beginning of the month.

In her long-anticipated decision, issued Aug. 1, U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore said the plaintiffs, led by Houston City Councilmen James Rodriguez and Ed Gonzalez, were unable to demonstrate that a map adopted two years ago by the Harris County Commissioners Court was unconstitutional or that race was the predominant factor in the design of the plan.

The notice of appeal was filed Thursday in the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals by plaintiffs’ attorney Chad Dunn, general counsel for the Texas Democratic Party.

The initial lawsuit, which went to trial in November, was filed in 2011 as the Commissioners Court prepared to adopt a map with precinct boundaries based on the 2010 census. After the ruling, the court adopted those boundaries at a meeting on Aug. 13.

See here for the previous update. The appeal was filed Friday. I have no idea what kind of schedule to expect for this, but if there’s going to be a ruling in time for the 2014 primaries, we’re going to need one sooner rather than later.

Lawsuit filed against Galveston County redistricting

Expect more of this going forward.

A Galveston County plan slashing the number of justice-of-the-peace districts from eight to four intentionally discriminates against minority voters and should be blocked, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday.

The lawsuit comes exactly one week after Galveston County commissioners approved a redistricting plan for justices of the peace similar to one rejected last year by the U.S. Justice Department. The department opposed the plan because it reduced the number of districts with black and Hispanic majorities from two to one, as does the one adopted last week.

[…]

By cutting the number of justice of the peace districts in half, Galveston commissioners reduced the number of judges from nine to four. Although the county has eight districts, there are nine justices of the peace because two are elected from a single precinct, an unusual arrangement arrived at under a 1992 consent judgment in a discrimination lawsuit.

Attorney Joe Nixon, whose firm was hired by the county to redraw the justice-of-the-peace districts, said the plan is in compliance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. “It’s hard to say there was race involved when of the five seats lost one was a minority and four were non-minorities,” Nixon said. He said the proportion of minority districts is the same as in the plan the Justice Department approved for commissioner’s districts.

Attorney Chad Dunn, who filed the lawsuit, said the new plan is both intentionally discriminatory and has a discriminatory effect. “The county was already told by the Department of Justice that this plan was discriminatory,” Dunn said. “The county knew the plan was discriminatory and they did it anyway.”

See here for the background. The proportionality argument is interesting and may wind up being persuasive, but it didn’t work for getting preclearance. The county commissioners also argue that they can save a bunch of money by consolidating constables and JP courts, claiming that two of the courts they have targeted for elimination had very low caseloads; the plaintiffs in the lawsuit dispute this. The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of Texas federal court in Galveston, and a copy of the suit is here. Note that among other things, the plaintiffs ask that Galveston County be bailed in to preclearance requirements under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. Whatever happens with the lawsuits against the state, local requests for Section 3 supervision will surely continue until clearer guidelines are set.

Why do we make it so hard to vote?

News item: Many voter registrations around the country are outdated or incorrect.

Some 24 million voter registrations in the United States contain significant errors, including about 1.8 million dead people still on the rolls and many more approved to vote in multiple states, according to a report released Tuesday.

Even though the inaccuracies impact one in eight registrations, researches at the Pew Center on the States said they don’t see it as an indicator of widespread fraud. Rather, they believe outdated systems are failing to keep pace with the most basic changes in people’s lives, feeding perceptions that U.S. elections are not as airtight as they could be.

In conjunction with Pew’s report, eight states said they are working this year on a centralized data system to help identify people whose registrations may be out of date.

“A lot of people probably assume we do this already,” said Sam Reed, who oversees elections as Washington’s secretary of state. “I think it’s going to bring more trust and confidence in the election system.”

About 2.7 million people have active registrations in multiple states, including about 2,000 people registered in four or more states, according to the Pew report. Elections officials said it is difficult to track when someone has moved to another state without canceling their previous registration.

Dead people on voter rolls get a lot of attention. What gets much less attention is the number of eligible voters who get purged from voter rolls as election administrators try to clean them up. Database management is hard. People with common names are often mistaken for each other, but even people with relatively uncommon names can have this problem. There’s another person with the same name as my wife in the Houston area who isn’t very good at paying her bills. We know this because we have received many, many phone calls over the years from various collection agencies trying to track her down. With the best of intentions and the most careful practices, mistakes can be and are made by elections administrator. Of course, some of them don’t have good intentions, and some of them aren’t particularly careful.

News item: Nonprofit group files federal lawsuit against Texas over voter registration practices.

The only voter ID anyone should need

Why do we make this so hard to get?

The nonprofit Voting for America filed a federal lawsuit Monday alleging Texas voter rolls have been actively suppressed by excessive restrictions on volunteers who conduct registration drives, aggressive purges of county voter rolls and poll workers who improperly requested identification from voters.

“A developing body of state practices and provisions targeted at voter registration activities is endangering the rights of many Texas voters,” the lawsuit alleges.

The group, affiliated with the Washington D.C.-based Project Vote, runs nonpartisan voter registration drives nationwide and has previously mounted legal challenges to state voter registration procedures in Missouri, Ohio, Indiana and New Mexico, among other states.

The latest lawsuit filed in the Southern District of Texas courts names Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade and takes aim at the state’s new mandatory training for all volunteer registrars – in which almost anyone who handles a voter’s application as part of a registration drive has to complete training before he or she can be “deputized” to operate in any Texas county. A spokesman for Andrade refused comment.

Population growth in Texas exceeds most other states, while many voter registration rolls throughout the state remain stagnant. As of January, 12.9 million Texans had registered to vote -up just 2 percent from January 2008.

That’s a companion to a Chron story from January 30 that I still haven’t seen online that notes voter registration totals in Harris County have stagnated despite its growth over the past decade. In response to which local Dem activist Stan Merriman wrote this op-ed about simplifying the voter registration process:

First, the voter, once registered should always be registered; any changes can and should be treated with a simple change of address process, excepting those few who lose their right to vote.

Second, voting at all times and locations should be treated like we do early voting. Voters should be allowed to show up at any polling place within the county and, with verification that they are county residents, be allowed to vote. Our sophisticated data base technology today can take care of the verification process.

Third, the county should routinely allocate adequate funding to maintain an ongoing voter registration and participation outreach campaign to motivate our citizens to participate in a simple process that ought to be routine, not torturous. The scale of our outreach now is comparable to that of a backwater, rural Texas county.

Fourth, my own party has never made registration a priority; it is not even mentioned in our State Platform. We should get into registration in a huge way, rather than relying on other groups.

Fifth, we should allow election-day registration, as is done in many states. Studies have shown at least a 15 percent increase in participation levels compared to states with burdensome advance registration processes, such as those in Harris County.

As I see it, there are two types of people in this country: Those who believe voting is a right, and that everyone has the right to vote unless they are too young, not citizens, or have an unresolved felony conviction; and those who believe voting is a privilege that one must earn by successfully completing a series of bureaucratic obligations. (Or, preferably, by being born in the right places to the right people. They don’t usually say that part out loud.) I am in the former group. All of these problems, along with the well-documented Republican efforts to suppress voting via onerous voter ID requirements, convince me that the solution is to reaffirm the right that every free adult citizen has in this country to vote and do away with all the needless and nettlesome requirements that hinder that right.

Admittedly, that’s easier said than done. One possible way to help is to take responsibility for tracking voters away from local officials and make it a federal responsibility. Kevin Drum suggests that a national ID card provided by the federal government would go a long way to solving this problem, and would make the voter ID issue moot as well. I realize that’s a black-helicopter issue for some people, but honestly in this day and age when Google and Facebook know more about you than you do about yourself, how scary is that really? But putting all the technical details aside, what this comes down to is very basic. Either you believe adult citizens have a right to vote that should not be interfered with by petty bureaucrats, or you believe that voting is a privilege that is arbitrarily granted and can be denied by whim or computer glitch. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would think the latter is acceptable. Stace and BOR have more.

UPDATE: Here’s that Chron story about voter registration totals in Harris County. Thanks to Fred King in the Tax Assessor’s office for sending it to me.

TDP to get KSP’s financial records

Good.

Houston tea party spinoff King Street Patriots will grant the Texas Democratic Party access to its financial records, forestalling an injunction hearing that had been set for Monday afternoon in Austin, according to TDP.

According to a TDP news release, review of the records will occur Tuesday at noon, with a hearing scheduled for Thursday in case TDP General Counsel Chad Dunn still has questions about what KSP has or has not disclosed.

TDP’s original information request was sent last Wednesday and demanded that KSP — as a registered Texas nonprofit corporation — turn over required records last Friday or today. On Friday, TDP announced it had scheduled the injunction hearing due to a lack of response from KSP, as the Texas Independent previously reported.

The Lone Star Project has started digging in, and this is what they’ve found so far:

King Street hiding source of $80,000

Though acknowledging the receipt of over $80,000, the King Street extremists refuse to disclose who contributed the money. Incredibly, the group contends that the funds were raised by “passing the hat” at their meetings. To put this outrageous claim into perspective, it would take 1,600 people contributing $50 each to raise $80,000 while a group of 400 people would have to contribute an average of $200 each. According to activist participants, the King Street extremists’ meeting space could barely hold 200 people, yet they claim to have raised as much as $15,000 at a single meeting simply by “passing the hat.”

Given their reluctance to come clean on their contributors, depositions taken under oath will likely be necessary to expose the actual sources and amounts of funds raised and spent by the King Street extremists.

Multiple Ties to Republican Party Activists and Party Officers
As expected, the documents show that the King Street activists operate more like an arm of the Republican Party than any non-profit organization:

  • Office space provided by close supporters of Texas Republican Party Chair
  • Online and communication services provided by key Swift Boat player
  • Cash payments to a right-wing extremist website

There’s more, so check it out. I can’t wait to see what the depositions turn up. And kudos to the Independent, which has owned this story. I still haven’t seen any reporting on it in the Chron. On a related note, former City Council member Carroll Robinson has sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking for election monitors to be sent to Harris County to “ensure that the voting rights of all the residents of the county are protected”. We’ll see what happens with that.

Hey, big secret spender

I know you’re as shocked as I am to learn that there are unknown entities spending large quantities of money in this election.

Campaign finance watchdogs say the tactic conceals important information about who is backing a political cause, but both groups insist they have followed the law and anonymity had nothing to do with their rationale for setting up as nonprofits.

“We are plunging deep into scandal,” said Craig Holman, a campaign finance reform advocate for Public Citizen, a Washington-based consumer advocacy organization. “Without disclosure, we have no idea where this money is coming from and no way to determine whether it’s legal or illegal. You could have drug cartels investing in an election on the Texas border, wanting to soften the laws, and there would be no way to know it.”

[…]

The national trend has manifested itself locally this year with two groups: King Street Patriots, an advocacy organization that was accused by Democrats this week of being responsible for complaints of voter intimidation at minority precincts; and Renew Houston, the driving force behind a ballot initiative asking voters to pay for a 20-year, $8 billion infrastructure program for the city.

Both organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code as “social welfare” organizations, which by tax law requires that at least 51 percent of their spending be dedicated to non-political purposes such as education. The use of that designation also exempts them, under federal law, from having to disclose donors.

The Texas Democratic Party on Monday said that under Texas law, King Street Patriots, due to the nature of its political advocacy, should be registered as a political committee, which would require that its donors be publicly disclosed. The party said it would include the group in a lawsuit over allegations of illegal election practices.

“You can spend all the money you want in Texas on political speech, you’ve just got to tell people who’s paying for it,” said Chad Dunn, general counsel of the Texas Democratic Party. “But when you have the King Street Patriots out there doing what they’re doing on the side, it’s all in the dark.”

The US Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove are leading the way on this. The Chamber has been arguing that it should be allowed to continue to shield the identity of its donors because some of them might face criticism and bad publicity for doing so. Who knew they were all such delicate flowers? Seems to me that’s a pretty good argument for them to not make such donations, but what do I know?

While the amount of money being sloshed about is unprecedented, it’s not like we’ve never seen this sort of thing before. Remember Texans for True Mobility? How about those anonymous attack mailers against Adrian Garcia in 2003? The only difference between then and now is the level of brazenness, and the size of the checks.

It’s unfortunate to see the Prop 1 campaign lumped in with these other groups on this story, since they did the right thing and disclosed their donors when they weren’t required to, and became an official PAC when they switched from getting on the ballot to advocacy mode. They’ve had some other issues with their campaign, but they got this right.

DOJ gets a call on voter intimidation allegations

Day Two of early voting saw far fewer allegations of voter intimidation and the possible arrival of the Justice Department to keep an eye on things.

Responding to complaints that poll watchers were intimidating voters in predominantly minority polling locations, County Attorney Vince Ryan summoned the county chairmen of both major parties to his office Tuesday and reminded them of their responsibility to make sure the observers were obeying the law.

Ryan also announced in the meeting that he has requested a monitor from the Justice Department to observe the voting process in Harris County through Nov. 2.

In a follow-up letter to the county chairmen, Ryan pointed out that poll watchers are entitled to be at a polling location, but cannot be present at the actual polling station when the voter is preparing his ballot and cannot converse with an election officer about the election, except to call attention to an irregularity or violation of the law.

Harris County Democratic Chairman Gerry Birnberg said his office had received reports Monday that poll watchers were “hovering” over voters, “getting in their face,” and talking to election workers.

“This is the fourth general election I’ve been involved with,” Birnberg said, “and we have never had this kind of problem in the past.”

TPM has more on this.

“We are currently gathering information regarding this matter,” Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement confirming the Civil Rights Division’s involvement.

[…]

Chad Dunn, a lawyer who is representing the Texas Democratic Party, told TPMMuckraker a number of witnesses have been interviewed by Civil Rights Division lawyers already. “We’ve gotten a number of reports — quite a few out of the Houston area — that poll watchers, King Street Patriot training poll watchers, are following a voter after they’ve checked them out and stand right behind them,” Dunn said. There’s at least a dozen reports that they could confirm with witnesses, he said. “Interestingly, it’s all in the polling places in Hispanic and African-American areas,” he added.

Terry O’Rourke, the first assistant in the Harris County Attorney’s office, told TPMMuckraker that there have been allegations of poll watchers talking to voters, which they are not allowed to do, as well as hovering over voters as they are waiting to vote. He said the complaints came from Kashmere Gardens, Moody Park, Sunnyside and other predominantly minority neighborhoods of the county.

Here’s more from TPM, in which they document some of the racist, threatening, and harassing emails that Houston Votes has gotten from these lovely people. I’m very glad to see this being taken seriously, and I hope this action will curtail the illegal behavior. KTRK and Mediaite have more, as do Martha, Stace, and John.

As for the Day Two numbers, here’s the same calculation I did yesterday, updated to include the October 19 vote totals.

2010 Day Two Strong R = 46.4% Medium R = 9.5% Medium D = 18.1% Strong D = 23.3% Total R = 55.9% Total D = 41.4% 2010 Overall Strong R = 46.7% Medium R = 9.2% Medium D = 18.1% Strong D = 23.4% Total R = 55.9% Total D = 41.5% 2006 Overall Strong R = 43.7% Medium R = 11.2% Medium D = 19.2% Strong D = 23.2% Total R = 54.9% Total D = 42.4%

Not a whole lot of change from yesterday, and still not a whole lot of difference from 2006. Again, this is a crude measure, there are more and different voters in each district, yadda yadda yadda. Make of it what you will. Statewide Day One early vote numbers for the top 15 counties are here

Supremes give Greens a reprieve

They’re on the ballot for now.

The Texas Supreme Court today stayed a district judge’s order blocking the Green Party of Texas from certifying its candidates for the general election ballot.

The order allows the Green Party to legally establish a list of candidates for the general election. But the court also set a series of deadlines for lawyers for the Texas Democratic Party and the Green Party to argue whether a ballot petition drive illegally used corporate money. The Supreme Court still could knock the party off the ballot.

Democratic Party lawyer Chad Dunn said he does not believe the fight is over.

“The effect of the order is to give the Supreme Court time before they open up an enormous loophole for potential election fraud,” Dunn said.

Green Party lawyer David Rogers said, “We get to put our candidates on the ballot today. We don’t know if we get to keep them there.”

Coverage of the Tuesday court session is here. At the risk of giving the all-Republican Supreme Court too much credit, I think it’s reasonable for them to ask for further arguments. If it weren’t for the deadline, that’s what they would have done anyway. I think the evidence we’ve seen is pretty damning, enough to get the Texas League of Conservation Voters to publicly call out the Greens for taking aid from the GOP, but I’d rather the Supremes get it right slow than wrong fast. I just hope they do eventually get it right. BOR, the Trib, PDiddie, and the Lone Star Project have more.

TDP responds to Vasquez

From Saturday’s op-ed pages, here’s the Texas Democratic Party’s response, written by the TDP’s legal counsel Chad Dunn, to Leo Vasquez in the matter of Ed Johnson.

Johnson’s conflict of interest doesn’t pass the smell test, and during the course of our lawsuit, we’ve found evidence that improper partisanship may have affected the conduct of elections in Harris County.

For example:

1. Problems with Johnson’s provisional ballot operation were pointed out last November by a Republican, Jim Harding, who chaired the Harris County Ballot Board. Provisional ballot affidavits were not processed by the tax office until five days after the deadline required by state law, forcing the ballot board to review most of the more than 7,000 provisional ballots in just 24 hours.

2. Harding complained that tax office employees altered official election records with white-out and corrective tape in violation of federal law. Sworn depositions later revealed that Ed Johnson had personally reviewed, and possibly changed, the recommendations of career staff regarding the counting of provisional ballots that included the names of Johnson’s Republican clients.

3. As reported by KHOU-TV and the Houston Chronicle last October, 11,350 timely voter registration applications were not processed in time to be put on the voter rolls by the first day of early voting in 2008, as required by state law, a problem not experienced in any other Texas county.

4. During the 2008 election cycle, Harris County rejected almost 70,000 voter registration applications. In Dallas County, where applications are processed by nonpartisan election officials, only 1,183 applications were rejected. Harris County has refused to make the database that tracks these rejected applications available for inspection.

5. During the same time period, Harris County removed 200,000 names — or 10 percent of the county’s voters — from the voter registration list for unknown reasons.

6. Additional evidence reveals that voter registration applicants who applied months before the election did not receive letters notifying them of their rejection status or asking for more information until Election Day or days after, another violation of state law that may have denied many the right to vote.

These problems are not “frivolous” matters.

Just thought I’d mention that the Democrats have had pretty good luck in recent years with election-related lawsuits. It was a lawsuit filed by several losing candidates after the 2002 election that led to the revelations about campaign finance violations by TAB and TRMPAC, which in turn led to a bunch of indictments, some convictions, and the eventual downfall of Tom DeLay. It was another Democratic lawsuit after DeLay’s resignation and withdrawal from the ballot in 2006 that forced the Republicans to run a write-in candidate in that election. That lawsuit was, naturally, declared “frivolous” by Republican Party of Texas Chair Tina Benkiser. That doesn’t mean this one’s a winner as well, but all things considered I like our odds.