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Election 2004

Does primary turnout in a district predict the November result?

Karl Rove would like you to think so.

At the House level, Democrats hope to win three districts won by Hillary Clinton and now held by Republican incumbents, as well as some of the six seats opened up by GOP retirements. Here again, the primary results are not heartening for Democrats.

In two Clinton-GOP congressional districts—the Seventh, in Houston, represented by Rep. John Culberson, and the 32nd, in Dallas, held by Rep. Pete Sessions—more Republicans voted than Democrats: 38,032 Republicans to 33,176 Democrats in the Seventh and 41,359 Republicans to 40,084 Democrats in the 32nd. Mrs. Clinton carried both districts by less than 2 percentage points in 2016.

Moreover, no Democrat won a majority in either district’s primary, forcing runoffs in May. In the Seventh, journalist Laura Moser —endorsed by the Bernie Sanders-connected “Our Revolution”—is pitted against Clinton loyalist and attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targeted Ms. Moser with an opposition-research dump arguing she was too liberal to win in the fall. The attack backfired: Ms. Moser was trailing Ms. Fletcher in early voting before the DCCC assault but won more votes among those who turned out on election day.

Democrats outvoted Republicans in a GOP-held seat that Mrs. Clinton carried by 3.4 percentage points—the massive 23rd Congressional District, which sweeps across West Texas. This year, after Democratic candidates spent a combined $1.1 million, 44,320 voted in their primary to 30,951 Republicans. Still, that is 5,000 more Republicans than voted in the 2014 primary, which launched Will Hurd into Congress. A former undercover CIA officer, Rep. Hurd is one of the GOP’s most effective campaigners. His “DQ Townhalls” at Dairy Queens across his largely Hispanic district helped him hold the district by 1.3 points in 2016 even as Mr. Trump lost by more than 3 points.

Democratic aspirations to take some of the six open Republican congressional districts also appear slim: Republicans turned out more voters in all six, with the GOP’s margins ranging from roughly 16,000 to 22,000 votes.

If we’re talking about CD23, I can tell you that the Democratic candidates have received more votes than the Republican candidates in each primary since 2012, which includes one year that Pete Gallego won and two years that Will Hurd won. As such, I’m not sure how predictive that is.

More to the point, I am always suspicious when a data point is presented in a vacuum as being indicative of something. We’ve had primary elections before. How often is it the case that the party who collects the most primry votes in a given race goes on to win that race in November? Putting it another way, if one party draws fewer votes in the primary, does that mean they can’t win in November? Let’s step into the wayback machine and visit some primaries to the past to see.


2004

CD17 - GOP            CD17 - Dem

McIntyre     10,681   Edwards      17,754
Snyder       11,568
Wohlgemuth   15,627

Total        37,876   Total        17,754

November result - Edwards 125,309  Wohlgemuth 116,049

HD134 - GOP           HD134 - Dem

Wong          4,927   Barclay         771
                      Daugherty     4,193

Total         4,927   Total         4,964

November result - Wong 36,021  Daugherty 29,806

HD137 - GOP           HD137 - Dem

Witt          1,291   Amadi           376
Zieben          970   Hochberg      1,012

Total         2,261   Total         1,388

November result - Hochberg 10,565  Witt 8,095

HD149 - GOP           HD149 - Dem

Heflin        2,526   Vo            1,800

November result - Vo 20,695  Heflin 20,662


2006

HD47 - GOP            HD47 - Dem

Welch         2,349   Bolton        1,569
Four others   3,743   Three others  2,071

Total         6,092   Total         3,640

November result - Bolton 26,975  Welch 24,447

HD50 - GOP            HD50 - Dem

Fleece        1,441   Strama        2,466
Wheeler         294
Zimmerman     1,344

Total         3,079   Total         2,466

November result - Strama 25,098  Fleece 13,681

HD107 - GOP           HD107 - Dem

Keffer        3,054   Smith           724
                      Vaught        1,169

Total         3,054   Total         1,893

November result - Vaught 16,254  Keffer 15,145

HD134 - GOP           HD134 - Dem

Wong          3,725   Cohen         2,196

November result - Cohen 25,219  Wong 20,005


2010

HD48 - GOP            HD48 - Dem

Neil          9,136   Howard        6,239

November result - Howard 25,023  Neil 25,011


2012

SD10 - GOP            SD10 - GOP

Cooper        6,709   Davis        17,230
Shelton      28,249

Total        34,958   Total        17,230

November result - Davis 147,103  Shelton 140,656

HD144 - GOP           HD144 - Dem

Pena          1,030   Perez         1,149
Pineda        1,437   Risner          462
                      Ybarra          591

Total         2,467   Total         2,022

November result - Perez 12,446  Pineda 10,885


2014

SD15 - GOP            SD15 - Dem

Hale         13,563   LaCroix       3,239
                      Whitmire      9,766

Total        13,563   Total        13,005

November result - Whitmire 74,192  Hale 48,249


2016

HD107 GOP             HD107 - Dem

Sheets       10,371   Neave         6,317

November result - Neave 27,922  Sheets 27,086

Some points to note here. One, I’m cherry-picking just as Rove had done. There were plenty of examples of one party outvoting the other in a given primary race, then winning that race in November. That’s why I don’t have an example to cite from 2008, for instance. It’s also why I concentrated on the legislative races, since outside of CD23 there haven’t been many competitive Congressional races. Two, as you can see most of the examples are from last decade. That’s largely a function of how brutally efficient the 2011 gerrymander was. Three, these are actual votes cast, not turnout, as that data doesn’t exist on the SOS page and I was not going to trawl through multiple county election sites for this. It could be in some of the closer examples that adding in the undervotes would have flipped which party led the way.

All that out of the way, as you can see there are plenty of examples of parties trailing the primary votes but winning when it mattered. In some cases, the March tallies weren’t close, like with SD10 in 2012. In some other cases, it was the November races that weren’t close, like HD50 in 2006 and SD15 in 2014. The point I would make here is simply that this doesn’t look like a reliable metric to me. If you want to make the case that these Congressional races will be tough for Democrats to win regardless of the atmosphere and the demographic trends and the relative level of enthusiasm in the two parties, I’d agree. The weight of the evidence says that despite the positive indicators for 2018, we’re still underdogs in these districts. Our odds are better than they’ve been, but that doesn’t mean they’re great. I don’t think you need to use questionable statistics to make that case.

One more thing to consider: There was an effort, mostly driven by educators, to show up in the Republican primary and vote against Dan Patrick. It didn’t work in the sense that he won easily, but some 367K people did vote against him. I’m sure some number of those people are reliable Republicans, but some of them were likely new to the primary process. This probably had an effect on overall Republican turnout. A small effect, to be sure, but if it’s a little more than half of the anti-Patrick vote then we’re talking about 200K people. Take them out of the pool and the Republicans are back down at 2014 turnout levels.

I have no idea how much this effect might be. It’s certainly small, and I doubt you could measure it without some polling. But we know it’s there, and so it’s worth keeping in mind.

Rep. Ted Poe to retire

We’re verging on a mass exodus here.

Rep. Ted Poe

U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, announced Tuesday evening that he will retire from Congress.

“Thanks to the good Lord, I’m in good health, but it’s time for the next step,” Poe said in a statement. “I am looking forward to spending more time in Texas, especially with my 12 grandkids who have all been born since I was first elected to Congress. I am proud of the work that my office has accomplished: giving crime victims a voice, helping to combat human trafficking, and fighting for our constitutional rights and individual liberty.”

[…]

The seat has drawn some Democratic challengers, most notably nonprofit executive Todd Litton, who has held his own against Poe in fundraising in recent months.

First elected to Congress in 2004 and a sixth-generation Texan, Poe is possibly the most personally popular Texan within the U.S. House of Representatives.

With fans on both sides of the aisle, that affection came to light in 2016, when he was diagnosed with leukemia. Colleagues like U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, reacted to the news by wearing orange “Team Poe” wristbands. Even Democrats were known to check in with concern about his health.

Sources close to the congressman said that while the his health is stabilized, the ordeal did cause the 69-year-old to consider more spending time with his family.

But there were also signs of political frustration earlier this year. Amid congressional Republicans’ troubled efforts to move a repeal of former President Obama’s 2010 health care law, Poe resigned from the House Freedom Caucus. The group is known to be a thorn in the side of House leadership.

At the time he resigned from the group in late March, he said, “It is time to lead.”

A quirky but sincere presence around the Capitol, Poe made criminal justice a signature issue. He built his career as a Harris County prosecutor and a criminal court judge. His off-beat and shame-inducing punishments in that role became known as “Poe-tic justice.”

Poe also spent a much of his time on foreign affairs and on immigration. But he is best known to his colleagues as a go-to force on issues like violence against women and human sex trafficking.

First, let me say that I wish Rep. Poe all the best with his fight against leukemia, and that he has a happy and healthy retirement. He joins three of his Republican colleagues –
Sam Johnson, Jeb Hensarling, and Lamar Smith – in calling it a career this cycle. The last election we had where this many new members got elected was 2004, thanks to the DeLay re-redistricting that helped elevate Poe.

CD02 will be favored to be held by the Republicans, but Democrats made some gains there in 2016, and the departure of this generally well-liked incumbent may make holding this district a little tougher for them. First, we have to see who will run on that side; as of last night, there were no names being mentioned as potential candidates. I suspect that the pool of hopefuls is pretty deep, and as such we could have quite the primary race next year. I figure names will start dropping soon, and as filing season opens on Saturday, the rubber will meet the road in short order. How we feel about the future disposition on this district may depend a lot on who comes out of those races. The Chron has more.

2017 EV daily report: Day 8, and one more look at a way to guess turnout

Here are the numbers through Monday. Now that we are in the second week of early voting, when the hours each day are 7 to 7, these reports arrive in my inbox later in the evening. Here are the daily totals from previous years:

2015

2013

2011

2009

2007

And here’s a select comparison:


Year    Early    Mail    Total   Mailed
=======================================
2017   24,442   8,201   32,643   21,320
2015   73,905  23,650   97,555   43,279
2011   23,621   4,958   28,579   14,609
2007   19,250   4,353   23,603   13,589

The first Monday of Week 2 was busier than all preceding days, by a lot in 2015 and by a little in 2011 and 2007. Each day after that was busier still. This year, the second Monday was less busy than Thursday and Friday last week. I suspect an Astros hangover from Sunday night may have had something to do with that – Lord knows, traffic on I-45 in the morning and in the downtown tunnels at lunchtime were both eerily mild – in which case we ought to see more of an uptick going forward.

As for the other way of guessing turnout, which would be my third model for thinking about it, we have the May 2004 special city charter election, called by Mayor White to make adjustments to the pension funds, in the immediate aftermath of reports that recent changes had greatly increased the city’s financial obligations. A total of 86,748 people showed up for that election. I seriously doubt we’ll approach that, but my initial guesses on turnout for this year before I started looking at any data were 50,000 to 75,000, so it’s not ridiculously out of the question. Let’s file this one away for next May, when we may have to vote on the firefighter’s pay parity proposal.

As goes Tarrant

The Trib ponders the one big urban county that is not like the others.

Among the state’s five biggest counties, Tarrant is the only one that hasn’t backed a Democratic presidential candidate in the past decade. The 2016 presidential election heightened Tarrant’s status as an outlier. Even as the rest of the state’s big-city territories moved deeper into the Democratic column, Tarrant steadfastly emerged as America’s most conservative large urban county.

President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office this week, won the county by an 8.6-point margin. It was the narrowest win for a GOP presidential nominee in decades in Tarrant. But among the country’s 20 largest counties, Tarrant was only one of two that swung Trump’s way in November — and it had the wider margin.

Across Tarrant County, Democratic pockets are fewer and less powerful than their Republican counterparts. All four of the state senate districts that fall in Tarrant County are represented by Republicans. The GOP also holds eight of the county’s 11 state House seats. Four of the five county commissioner court seats are held by Republicans.

Residents, elected officials and experts here point to a nuanced union of demographic, cultural and political forces to explain why.

“There’s just all kinds of interesting numbers out there that make Tarrant County a lot different,” said U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, the only Democrat holding one of the county’s five congressional seats.

Tarrant’s minority population, which tends to lean Democratic, hasn’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties. At the same time, many Tarrant voters have a storied history of preferring practical governance to partisanship, according to officials and political observers. They say that helps support the moderate faction of the GOP, especially in Fort Worth, the nation’s 16th-largest city.

Then there’s the county’s development pattern. A lot of Tarrant remains rural. And, unlike Harris, Dallas and Travis counties, many of Tarrant’s affluent suburbs and conservative bedroom communities lie within its borders, not outside them. That’s helped give rise to the NE Tarrant Tea Party, a passionate and organized group that simultaneously supports far-right local candidates and serves as a powerful base for statewide Republicans.

[…]

Part of what has helped Tarrant become the state’s lone Republican urban county is that its minority populations, which largely and traditionally tend to lean Democratic, haven’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties.

White residents’ share of the Tarrant population is falling, but it hasn’t declined as quickly as it has in Harris, Dallas, Travis and Bexar, said state demographer Lloyd Potter. The county’s Hispanic population is growing quickly, but it still lags behind the other big counties in terms of raw numbers, Potter added.

But that’s likely to change.

While Tarrant remains more white than Texas as a whole, it’s experienced a more significant drop in its share of white residents in the past 10 years compared to the state. In 2015, the county’s white population dropped to 48.5 percent — down from 56.4 percent in 2005.

Whites’ falling numbers in the county aren’t limited to its urban core in Fort Worth. In fact, the white population experienced a bigger drop in its share of the population in the suburbs from 2005 to 2015.

Here’s a fun fact, which I believe I have mentioned before: Tarrant County is a really good predictor of the overall Presidential race result in Texas. Witness the past four elections:

2004

Statewide – Bush 61.09%, Kerry 38.22%
Tarrant – Bush 62.39%, Kerry 37.01%

2008

Statewide – McCain 55.45%, Obama 43.68%
Tarrant – McCain 55.43%, Obama 43.43%

2012

Statewide – Romney 57.17%, Obama 41.38%
Tarrant – Romney 57.12%, Obama 41.43%

2016

Statewide – Trump 52.23%, Clinton 43.24%
Tarrant – Trump 51.74%, Clinton 43.14%

Almost spooky, isn’t it? One perfectly rational answer to the question “when will Texas turn blue?” is “when Tarrant County also turns blue”.

Anyway. The article is correct that Tarrant differs from the other big urban counties in that it’s actually a lot less urban than they are. Much of Tarrant is suburban, even rural, and that’s just not the case in Harris, Dallas, Bexar, and Travis. Tarrant’s demographics are changing, as the story notes, but I have no idea if there’s anything to suggest its demographics are changing any faster than the state’s are. The statewide judicial races and the one contested district court race were all in the 13-16 point range, which is consistent with the statewide results. I wish I could say I saw something to suggest change was coming faster, but at least in the numbers, I can’t. Maybe someone who is more familiar with the county can chime in.

Having said all this, one big opportunity in 2018 is in Tarrant, and that’s SD10, the Senate seat formerly held by Wendy Davis. Even in the dumpster fire of 2014, freshman Sen. Konni Burton only won by nine points, with 52.83% of the vote. If 2018 is a less hostile year, this is a winnable race, and as I’ve said before, any competitive Senate race is a big deal. Whatever we can do to hasten change in Tarrant County, 2018 would be a good time to do it.

Precinct analysis: None of the above

We have been told that this was a year where many people were unhappy with the two main choices they had for President. We looked at Presidential numbers in Harris County before, and now we’re going to look again, at write-in candidates and at undervotes.


Dist McMullen  All WI  McMullin%  All WI%
=========================================
HD126     354     417      0.57%    0.67%
HD127     444     521      0.60%    0.70%
HD128     152     192      0.25%    0.32%
HD129     364     446      0.52%    0.64%
HD130     479     554      0.59%    0.68%
HD131      63      87      0.14%    0.19%
HD132     398     461      0.57%    0.67%
HD133     425     517      0.56%    0.68%
HD134     627     707      0.69%    0.78%
HD135     268     316      0.44%    0.52%
HD137      89     100      0.32%    0.36%
HD138     234     293      0.45%    0.57%
HD139     113     135      0.21%    0.26%
HD140      36      47      0.13%    0.17%
HD141      22      42      0.06%    0.11%
HD142     141     150      0.31%    0.33%
HD143      32      46      0.10%    0.14%
HD144      39      56      0.14%    0.20%
HD145      64      80      0.18%    0.21%
HD146     234     267      0.48%    0.54%
HD147     164     179      0.28%    0.31%
HD148     283     324      0.58%    0.66%
HD149     117     145      0.27%    0.33%
HD150     505     596      0.66%    0.78%


Dist     None   Total   None %
==============================
HD126   1,349  63,214    2.13%
HD127   1,480  75,620    1.96%
HD128     909  60,656    1.50%
HD129   1,307  71,355    1.83%
HD130   1,501  83,009    1.81%
HD131     899  47,459    1.89%
HD132   1,285  70,519    1.82%
HD133   1,914  78,173    2.45%
HD134   2,313  93,167    2.48%
HD135   1,111  61,619    1.80%
HD137     590  28,027    2.11%
HD138   1,049  52,787    1.99%
HD139   1,056  53,829    1.96%
HD140     637  28,652    2.22%
HD141     726  39,243    1.85%
HD142     819  46,243    1.77%
HD143     663  34,279    1.93%
HD144     601  28,120    2.14%
HD145     753  35,918    2.10%
HD146     936  50,081    1.87%
HD147   1,205  59,489    2.01%
HD148   1,083  49,819    2.17%
HD149     973  44,955    2.16%
HD150   1,463  78,180    1.87%

The first table documents the votes for Evan McMullin, who drew by far the most votes among the thirteen certified write-in candidates, which means the thirteen whose votes were actually counted. The second column is for all write-in votes for the given district. There were 6,510 total write-in votes, with McMullin receiving 5,647 of them. To put that in some perspective, Ralph Nader received 1,716 write-in votes in 2004, for 0.17% of the vote. McMullen had 0.43% of the vote, a hair less than half of Jill Stein’s 0.90% share.

Not surprisingly, McMullin drew most of his votes in heavily Republican districts. That’s no doubt because McMullin ran as a viable alternative for Republicans who were unhappy with Trump, and because there were more Republicans in those places. The two districts that stand out here are HDs 128, the only Republican district where McMullin finished below his countywide percentage, and 146, the only Democratic area where he outperformed the overall number. My guess for HD128 is that the voters there were just happier with Trump than voters elsewhere. As for HD146, I got nothing. Feel free to speculate about that in the comments.

The second table is for undervotes, which is to say the people who did not vote in the Presidential race. As you might imagine, that is usually the race that has the lowest undervote rate. This year, the undervote rate in the Presidential race was 1.99%; the next lowest rate was in the Tax Assessor’s race, where 3.47% skipped it. County judicial races were around five percent. Before I talk about the rates in each district, here’s how the Presidential undervote compared to other years:


Year   Undervote   Under%
=========================
2016      26,622    1.99%
2012      15,381    1.28%
2008      17,185    1.45%
2004      20,692    1.90%

Gotta say, I would not have expected 2004 to have had that many undervoters. I don’t see much of a pattern here. HD128 again demonstrated its satisfaction with the candidates by having the lowest undervote rate, but the districts that gave McMullin the most support did not necessarily have high undervote rates. Both Democratic and Republican districts above average and below average. Maybe you see something there, and maybe if I went down to the precinct level I’d see something, but right now I don’t. It just is what it is.

I’m going to take a crack at Fort Bend and Dallas Counties next week. As always, let me know what you think.

Another non-Trump elector

I don’t know if this is becoming a thing, but it is interesting.

I am a Republican presidential elector, one of the 538 people asked to choose officially the president of the United States. Since the election, people have asked me to change my vote based on policy disagreements with Donald J. Trump. In some cases, they cite the popular vote difference. I do not think president-elects should be disqualified for policy disagreements. I do not think they should be disqualified because they won the Electoral College instead of the popular vote. However, now I am asked to cast a vote on Dec. 19 for someone who shows daily he is not qualified for the office.

[…]

Mr. Trump urged violence against protesters at his rallies during the campaign. He speaks of retribution against his critics. He has surrounded himself with advisers such as Stephen K. Bannon, who claims to be a Leninist and lauds villains and their thirst for power, including Darth Vader. “Rogue One,” the latest “Star Wars” installment, arrives later this month. I am not taking my children to see it to celebrate evil, but to show them that light can overcome it.

Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s pick for national security adviser, has his own checkered past about rules. He installed a secret internet connection in his Pentagon office despite rules to the contrary. Sound familiar?

Finally, Mr. Trump does not understand that the Constitution expressly forbids a president to receive payments or gifts from foreign governments. We have reports that Mr. Trump’s organization has business dealings in Argentina, Bahrain, Taiwan and elsewhere. Mr. Trump could be impeached in his first year given his dismissive responses to financial conflicts of interest. He has played fast and loose with the law for years. He may have violated the Cuban embargo, and there are reports of improprieties involving his foundation and actions he took against minority tenants in New York. Mr. Trump still seems to think that pattern of behavior can continue.

The author of this op-ed is Christopher Suprun, who is from Dallas. He joins Art Sisneros in being unwilling to cast his vote for Trump, though he parts ways with Sisneros by remaining an elector. There are faithless electors from time to time, with two of them this century, but I think it’s fair to say that we may see more of them than usual this year. Whether it becomes more than a footnoted curiosity some day or something more I couldn’t say, but it is interesting. The Trib and Think Progress have more.

Precinct analysis: Bennett v Sullivan

Ann Harris Bennett was the only countywide Democratic candidate to be trailing on Election Day as the early voting totals were posted, but as the night went on she cut into the deficit and finally took the lead around 10 PM, going on to win by a modest margin. Here’s how that broke down:


Dist  Sullivan  Bennett  Sullivan%  Bennett%
============================================
CD02   168,936  105,778     61.50%    38.50%
CD07   147,165  106,727     57.96%    42.04%
CD09    29,855  103,511     22.39%    77.61%
CD10    83,213   34,795     70.51%    29.49%
CD18    53,558  148,586     26.49%    73.51%
CD29    41,555   88,942     31.84%    68.16%
				
SBOE6  357,083  249,953     58.82%    41.18%
				
HD126   37,003   24,186     60.47%    39.53%
HD127   50,028   23,460     68.08%    31.92%
HD128   42,659   16,238     72.43%    27.57%
HD129   44,072   24,777     64.01%    35.99%
HD130   60,429   20,277     74.88%    25.12%
HD131    8,121   37,906     17.64%    82.36%
HD132   39,094   29,321     57.14%    42.86%
HD133   50,116   25,241     66.50%    33.50%
HD134   49,352   39,410     55.60%    44.40%
HD135   33,528   26,112     56.22%    43.78%
HD137    9,664   17,099     36.11%    63.89%
HD138   28,827   22,096     56.61%    43.39%
HD139   13,707   38,266     26.37%    73.63%
HD140    7,556   19,790     27.63%    72.37%
HD141    5,934   32,109     15.60%    84.40%
HD142   11,599   33,182     25.90%    74.10%
HD143   10,372   22,294     31.75%    68.25%
HD144   11,810   15,188     43.74%    56.26%
HD145   12,669   21,519     37.06%    62.94%
HD146   11,323   36,903     23.48%    76.52%
HD147   14,119   43,254     24.61%    75.39%
HD148   20,434   26,999     43.08%    56.92%
HD149   16,639   26,389     38.67%    61.33%
HD150   50,472   25,358     66.56%    33.44%
				
CC1     82,916  231,040     26.41%    73.59%
CC2    134,067  117,084     53.38%    46.62%
CC3    202,128  149,943     57.41%    42.59%
CC4    220,415  149,294     59.62%    40.38%
Ann Harris Bennett

Ann Harris Bennett

This was Bennett’s fourth try for office. She had run for County Clerk in 2010 and 2014 against Stan Stanart, and for Tax Assessor in 2012 against now-incumbent Mike Sullivan, losing by fewer than 2,500 votes out of over 1.1 million cast. She becomes the fifth Tax Assessor since 2009, following Paul Bettencourt (who resigned shortly after being re-elected in 2008), Leo Vasquez (appointed to replace Bettencourt), Don Sumners (defeated Vasquez in the 2010 primary and won in November to complete the term), and Sullivan (defeated Sumners in the 2012 primary and then Bennett in November).

Incumbent Tax Assessors tend to do pretty well in re-election efforts. Bettencourt was the top votegetter in 2004, leading even George W. Bush by over 20,000 votes. He trailed only Ed Emmett in 2008, finishing 16K votes ahead of John McCain. Despite his loss, Sullivan was the high scorer among Republicans, beating all the judicial candidates by at least 19K votes. Only Sullivan in 2012 and Sumners in 2010, both first-timers on the November ballot, failed to make the upper echelon. Assuming she runs for re-election in 2020, it will be interesting to see if that same pattern holds for the Democrat Bennett as it has done for her Republican predecessors.

It’s instructive again to compare these results to the judicial races, as they provide a comparison to the base level of partisan support. While Sullivan finished well ahead of the Republican judicial candidates, Bennett wasn’t below the Democratic judicials; she was near the bottom, but did better than four of them. Looking at the numbers across State Rep districts, Bennett was usually a couple hundred votes below the Democratic judicial average, while Sullivan beat the Republican norm by a thousand votes or more. In HD134, he topped it by over 3,000 votes, though interestingly he wasn’t the high scorer there – Lunceford (50,193), Mayfield (49,754), and Bond (49,407) were all ahead of him, with Guiney (49,209), Halbach (49,173), and Ellis (49,081) right behind.

My general hypothesis here is that fewer Republicans skipped this race. I observed in the Sheriff’s race overview that Democratic judicial candidates had more dropoff than Republican judicial candidates did, while the non-judicial Democrats did a good job of holding onto those votes. Bennett performed more like a judicial candidate, while Sullivan overperformed that metric. I assume that the exposure Tax Assessors get, since every year everyone who owns a car and/or a home has to make at least one payment to that person, helps boost their numbers in elections. Again, we’ll see if Bennett benefits from that in her next election.

This concludes my review of Harris County races. I have one more post relating to Harris County in my queue, and I plan to take at least a cursory look at Fort Bend and Dallas Counties. Again, if you have any particular questions you want me to examine, let me know. I hope you have found this all useful.

Recount in HD105

Still not decided yet.

Terry Meza

Terry Meza

The tight Texas House District 105 race between Republican state Rep. Rodney Anderson and Democratic challenger Terry Meza is headed for a recount. Meza trails Anderson by 69 votes, according to the latest Dallas County elections office tally.

The Secretary of State’s office today approved Meza’s request for the recount, which is scheduled for Nov. 28.

“I’m cautiously optimistic and just feel like we owe it to the voters when we say, ‘Every vote counts,'” Meza said Monday.

[…]

The current vote difference is less than one-fifth of a percent of the 47,369 ballots cast. But this eastern Dallas County district that covers parts of Irving and Grand Prairie is no stranger to close contests.

Former State Rep. Linda Harper-Brown famously held on to the seat in 2008, when she beat a Democrat by a mere 19 votes. That race also went to a recount and prompted a series of lawsuits that stretched the contest into December. But the race had higher stakes eight years ago: Harper-Brown’s eventual victory gave Republicans a narrow 76-74 majority in the lower chamber. Now, Republicans hold a comfortable majority in the 150-seat chamber regardless of who wins this seat.

See here for the background. Meza actually made up about half of her initial deficit with the overseas and provisional ballots, which is impressive in and of itself. I seriously doubt the recount will change the current margin, however. Since I started blogging, there have been three legislative races closer than this one that went to a recount (and in two cases to an election contest heard in the House) without the result changing: Hubert Vo in 2004, Donna Howard in 2010, and the aforementioned Linda Harper-Brown in 2008. I strongly suspect that Rodney Anderson will prevail, and will face an even stronger challenge in 2018.

A theory about third parties

Before I get to that theory, have you ever wondered about the people who vote straight ticket Libertarian or Green in Harris County? I got to wondering about them, because that’s the sort of thing that I think about at times like this. Here are the total numbers of such people, grouped by Presidential and non-Presidential years, going back to 2000:


Year  Total votes  SP Lib  SP Green   Lib%  Green%
==================================================
2000      995,631   1,935     4,503  0.19%   0.45%
2004    1,088,793   3,343            0.31%
2008    1,188,731   4,017            0.34%
2012    1,204,167   4,777     1,759  0.40%   0.15%
2016    1,336,985   8,781     4,577  0.66%   0.34%

2002      656,682   1,159     1,399  0.18%   0.21%
2006      601,186   3,052            0.51%
2010      798,995   2,506     1,110  0.31%   0.14%
2014      688,018   2,922     1,180  0.42%   0.17%

“SP Lib” is the total number of straight party Libertarian votes, and “SP Green” is the same for the Greens. “Lib%” and “Green%” are the share of these straight party votes to all votes cast in the county. If you look at the election result pages on the HarrisVotes.com website, you will see that my percentages are lower than the ones shown there. That’s because they calculate the percentage of these votes as a share of all straight-party votes cast, not a share of all votes. I did it this way to see what if any trend there was for Libertarian and Green voting overall. For comparison purposes, 30.01% of all votes in Harris county this year were straight ticket Republican, with 35.35% of all votes being straight-ticket Democratic.

As you can see, in the Presidential years the Libertarians had been slowly ticking upwards, with a bit of a jump this year, though the trend is more erratic in the off years. The spike in 2006 is odd, because the Libertarian candidate for Governor received only 0.61% of the vote that year. If you wanted to vote outside the two-party box for Governor in 2006, you had plenty of choices. The Greens weren’t officially on the ballot in 2004, 2006, or 2008, so there’s less of a trend to spot. I’d say they do better in or right after a year where they have a Presidential candidate who gets some attention. Whether any of this will hold next year is not something I’m going to speculate about at this time. My mantra for the next twelve to eighteen months is “conditions in 2018 will be different than they were in 2014 and 2010”, and leave it at that.

That brings me to my theory, which applies to low profile races – not President, not Senate, not Governor, sometimes not other races. I’m limiting myself to statewide contests here, since that’s where you get most of the third party candidates that an individual voter sees. In my case, there was a Green candidate for CD18, a Libertarian for SBOE, and nothing else below the state level. I believe that in these races, which this year would be the Railroad Commission and the two state courts, voters for third party candidates can be broadly sorted into one of three groups. The first group is the party faithful, which as we have just seen is a relatively small cohort. There are probably a few more people who vote L or G as a first choice but don’t vote straight ticket, but that’s still a small group even in the context of just third party voters. Most of the people voting third party in these races aren’t voting third party as a matter of course.

So who are they? Group Two I believe is people who normally vote for Rs or Ds but who refuse to vote for their candidate in this particular instance. That may be because the candidate of their party is too/not sufficiently liberal/conservative for them, because that candidate supports or opposes a specific thing that is of great importance to them, because the candidate has ethical baggage, or because they just don’t like that candidate for some reason. In these cases, they don’t want to vote for the candidate of the other party, so a third party it is. Gary Johnson obviously got a lot of these votes in the Presidential race, but the downballot exemplar for this one was the Railroad Commissioner race, where Libertarian Mark Miller got a bunch of newspaper endorsements for being the most qualified candidate running.

The thing is, I don’t think there are that many races like that. I think in a lot of these races, people just don’t know anything about any of the candidates. So if you’re someone who (say) generally votes Democratic but aren’t that committed to it and you’re looking at a race for the Court of Criminal Appeals, you may say to yourself “well, I know I don’t want to vote for the Republican, but I don’t know who any of these other people are, so I’ll just pick one and move on”. These people are my Group Three.

What that says to me first of all is that both Republicans and Democrats are leaving some votes on the table in these downballot races by not doing a better job of getting their candidates’ names out there. That’s not much of a concern for the Republicans, who continue to win by double-digit margins, but it could eventually matter. I see this as an extension of a problem that Democrats are increasingly having in their primaries, where candidates like RRC nominee Grady Yarbrough have won races by a combination of pseudo-name recognition and random chance because no one knows who the hell these people are. I have many wishes for Texas Democrats going forward, and high on my list is for the party and the donor class to take these downballot primaries seriously.

One possible exception to this may be for Latino candidates. Look at the top votegetters for each party: Supreme Court candidates Eva Guzman and Dori Contreras Garza. My hypothesis is that Latino voters in a Group Three situation will choose a Latino candidate, even possibly one from their non-preferred party, instead of just randomly picking someone. Again, this is in races where none of the candidates are known to the voters, and thus there could be a different outcome if people had more knowledge. If we ever get to that point, maybe we’ll see that difference.

Finally, I believe my theory is consistent with the Libertarian candidate almost always doing better than the Green candidate does in these situations, for the simple reason that the Libertarian candidate appears on the ballot above the Green candidate. If it’s true that some people just pick a name after having moved past the first two candidates, then it makes sense that the first candidate listed after those two would get a larger share.

Anyway, that’s my theory. I could be wrong, and I doubt anyone other than me had given this much thought. I’ll get back to the precinct analyses tomorrow. Let me know what you think about this.

Early voting, Day Twelve: Nearly a million

EarlyVoting

Here’s your final daily EV report and your updated tracker spreadsheet. The final tally from Friday was 105,005 in person votes and 2,882 more mail ballots returned. That brings us to 882,580 people showing up at an early vote location, 94,699 returned mail ballots, and 977,279 total early voters. There will no doubt be a couple thousand more mail ballots coming in between now and Tuesday, so the final early vote tally will be a bit higher – surely north of 980,000, though by how much I couldn’t say. To put this in a bit pf perspective, there were 1,088,793 ballots cast in Harris County in the entire 2004 election. We’re at over 90% of tha total after early voting, and there’s still Tuesday to come.

So how many people will vote on Tuesday? I’ll get to that in a second, but let’s remember that there are some 300,000 more registered voters now than there were in 2012. As I’ve shown before, if turnout in Harris County is the same fair-to-middling rate of 61.99% as it was in 2012, we’d have 1,385,276 total votes cast, or about another 400,000 on Tuesday. Let’s look at the Election Day rates from the last three elections to give us some further guidance.


Year    Mail      Early      E-Day      Total
=============================================
2004  47,619    411,822    629,333  1,088,793
2008  67,612    678,449    442,670  1,188,731
2012  76,085    700,982    427,100  1,204,167
2016  94,699    882,580


Year        RVs   Mail%   Early%   E-Day%
=========================================
2004  1,876,296   2.54%   21.95%   33.54%
2008  1,892,656   3.57%   35.85%   23.39%
2012  1,942,566   3.92%   36.09%   21.99%
2016  2,219,647   4.27%   39.76%

As noted before, the final number of mail ballots will be higher after the Monday and Tuesday post comes in, but this is good enough for now. Let’s project four possible turnout values for Tuesday based on what we have seen before.

Scenario 1: 23.39% of RVs vote on Tuesday, same as was in 2008. This is another 519,175 voters, for 1,496,454 total, or 67.42% turnout.

Scenario 2: 21.99% of RVs vote on Tuesday, same as was in 2012. This is another 488,100 voters, for 1,465,379 total, or 66.02% turnout.

Scenario 3: 19.48% of RVs vote on Tuesday. This is the difference between EV plus E-Day turnout percentages in 2008 and the EV percentage this year. That’s another 432,237 voters for 1,409,516 total, or 63.50% turnout.

Scenario 4: 18.32% of RVs vote on Tuesday. This is the difference between EV plus E-Day turnout percentages in 20012 and the EV percentage this year. That’s another 406,639 voters for 1,383,918 total, or 62.35% turnout.

Something like #s 2 or 3 seem the most likely, possibly in between the two, but anything could happen. And again, remember that there’s probably a couple thousand more mail ballots on their way to the County Clerk’s office, so all of these would be a tad low anyway. For what it’s worth, the County Clerk is projecting 1.5 million voters total, which is more or less my Scenario #1. We’ll know soon enough.

One last thing: Friday was the best day for Democrats of them all. Dems won each day by the metrics used. It seems likely that the Republicans will win Election Day and close the gap somewhat, possibly more than I’d like to think they will. This is one reason why I’m a bit skeptical of those late poll results that have Trump in a double-digit lead, though it’s more suggestive than conclusive. Everything I’ve seen so far tells me that this has been a better election so far for Democrats than 2012 and 2008, but there’s still Tuesday. I’ll know when you know.

Wait, who supports paper ballots now?

I have three things to say about this.

Following repeated allegations by Republican Donald Trump that the election may be rigged to ensure a win for Democrat Hillary Clinton, Texas lawmakers are actively considering ways to boost confidence in the state’s elections during next year’s legislative session.

Among the ideas drawing interest: adding paper trail backups to thousands of electronic voting machines.

The idea was brought up in a tweet Saturday by Gov. Greg Abbott.

“That’s a great idea & we are considering it as an election reform measure. Election integrity is essential,” Abbott tweeted in response to a voter who tweeted that he wanted printed proof of how he cast his ballot.

Over the last decade, several Texas lawmakers have filed bills to require paper trails on electronic voting machine. The proposals often include adding a printer in a sealed case to the state’s electronic voting machines so voters could check their votes against the receipt. The paper trail could be consulted in the event of a recount.

During the 2007 legislative session, interest in the idea stalled following estimates that adding the printers to all of the state’s voting machines could cost $40 to 50 million, according to a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article from the time.

One of the 2007 bills was authored by then-state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham. Now a state senator, she said she may re-introduce her previous legislation.

“I agree with Governor Abbott’s call for election reform,” Kolkhorst said Tuesday in an emailed statement. “I have personally spoken with his office about re-introducing my legislation from 2007 to strengthen ballot integrity by requiring a paper record be printed of a person’s vote on an electronic voting machine. Texans have the right to inspect and verify that their vote was accurately recorded.”

[…]

The move toward election reform comes amid an election season in which Texans have expressed concerns about election rigging and voter fraud. Last week, Trump highlighted reports of voting machines in Texas changing votes for president from voters casting straight-ticket ballots. Those reports, however, have been largely debunked by election officials, who have stated that alleged instances of “vote flipping” were the result of user error.

1. I’m old enough to remember when suspicion of electronic voting machines and faith that only paper ballots could ensure the integrity of our electoral system was a shibboleth on the left, largely having to do with dire conspiracy theories about the Diebold corporation and vote counting in Ohio in 2004. Here’s a little blast from the past for those of you who have blocked this out or weren’t there for it the first time. Who knew that a sociopathic sore-losing narcissist could spark such an interest in voting machine integrity among Republicans? For that matter, who knew that so many Republican voters could be that suspicious of the electoral process in a state whose elections they have been dominating for over 20 years? Clearly, all these Republican County Clerks and Republican-appointed elections administrators can’t be trusted.

2. Travis County has already done a lot of the heavy lifting on building a better mousetrap. Maybe we should just emulate their work and save us all a bunch of time and effort.

3. Putting aside the question of paper ballots for a moment, perhaps we should take a moment and contemplate the fact that the electronic voting machines we use now are all a decade or more old, and are generally past their recommended lifespan. If we do nothing else, spending a few bucks to upgrade and replace our current hardware would be an excellent investment.

Early voting, Day Four: Just the facts

Here is your Day 4 EV report, and here as always is the spreadsheet that tracks early voting in Presidential elections going back to 2004. Long story short, another record-breaking day, with about the same volume (just over 76,000 in person votes) as on Wednesday. We are at over 366,000 total votes after four days. At this pace, we will surpass the entire 2004 early vote total on Saturday, and the entire 2008 total on Tuesday. There is a point at which we will run out of voters, but that point is not here yet, and may not happen till Election Day itself.

Day Three was another win for Democrats in Harris County as per the available data. Greg Wythe answered a question from two people in the comments to yesterday’s post that explained how people like him arrive at such conclusions. Here’s the link he provided if you want to know more.

That’s all I’ve got for today. I’ll do some more analysis over the weekend.

Early voting, Day Three: The case for pessimism

Dave Mann tells Texas Democrats to put those rose-tinted glasses away.

EarlyVoting

On Monday, the Real Clear Politics site declared that Texas is up for grabs in the presidential election. The shift comes after a series of polls showing a tight race in the state between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and makes for a dramatic image on the site’s election tracking map, where Texas is no longer colored its usual red but is now the dark gray that connotes a “toss up.” For Democrats, seeing their state change color on one of the most widely read and respected campaign outlets—after decades of Republican dominance and years of unfulfilled hopes that Texas might turn blue—must be cathartic. And it might be tempting to view this sudden shift to competitiveness as the start of Democrats’ long-hoped-for return to relevance, as a turning point.

Well, they should keep the cork in the champagne, because Texas remains a Republican state.

As my colleague R.G. Ratcliffe pointed out, the Texas polls are close not because of a huge spike in Democratic voters—Clinton’s numbers are roughly in line with Obama’s totals from 2008 and 2012—but because Trump’s support has cratered. He’s drastically under-performing previous Republican presidential nominees. John McCain and Mitt Romney garnered 55 percent and 57 percent of the vote in Texas, respectively. Trump is polling 10 to 12 points below that.

[…]

While it’s true that the national GOP looks like a smoking ruin right now, the state party remains fairly strong. It still has huge advantages over Texas Democrats in money, organization, and candidate depth, and Republicans start every statewide race with at least a ten-point edge, if not more. And if you’re thinking that built-in advantage may be shrinking, keep in mind that we’re just two years removed from an across-the-board Republican blowout of nearly 20 points. In Wendy Davis, the Democrats had their best known and best funded candidate in years, and she lost to Greg Abbott by nearly a million votes.

It’s also worth remembering that most statewide offices in Texas come up for election in non-presidential years in which the electorate generally tends to be whiter and older—in other words, more Republican.

The one caveat is the potential increase in Latino voters. R.G. wrote on Monday that more than 530,000 people with Latino surnames have registered to vote since 2012, according to the Texas secretary of state’s office. It’s not hard to envision Trump’s candidacy increasing the number of Latino voters who turn out to vote in Texas, offering Democrats the opportunity to begin building a coalition that could one day make them competitive again. But capitalizing on that opportunity requires the difficult party-building, community-organizing, voter-turnout work that Democrats in this state haven’t exactly excelled at in recent years.

In other words, two years from now—without Trump at the top of the ticket—Texas Republicans will once again be heavily favored to sweep the statewide offices.

See here for my discussion of RG Ratcliffe’s article. First, let me say that I agree with Dave Mann in that it’s at least premature, if not downright silly, to call Texas a swing state right now. It’s a lot closer than we’re used to seeing it, but the numbers aren’t there for swing state status. The Real Clear Politics average for the two-way race has Trump leading by 4.6 percentage points. FiveThirtyEight has Trump’s lead at 6.2 after applying their secret sauce. Out of thirteen poll results that I’ve tracked, only that one wacky WaPo/Survey Monkey one from September had Clinton in the lead, by one point. I think to be a real swing state, your polling average has to be within, say, two or three points, with more than one result disagreeing with the others about who’s in the lead. Texas doesn’t make the cut on either of those.

That said, I think Mann is underplaying how well Clinton is doing, both in absolute terms and relative to Obama. The more recent polls have shown her increase her total more than Trump has done. I split the thirteen poll results I’ve tracked into pre-October and October results and averaged each. That works out as follows:

Pre-October: Trump 42.0, Clinton 35.7
October: Trump 46.2, Clinton 41.5

Clinton has gained 5.8 points in the average to Trump’s 4.2, cutting the margin in the average from 6.3 to 4.7. Moreover, she’s considerably ahead of where Obama was in the October polls from 2012:

October 2012: Romney 55.8, Obama 39.0

You can also use the YouGov tracker for a direct comparison. The election eve result in 2012 had Obama at 38%. As of yesterday, Clinton was at 41.4; she was up at 42.0 over the weekend. And remember, that 2012 YouGov result underestimated Obama by three and a half points. It’s possible they’ve changed their model to account for that, but it’s also possible they’re underestimating Clinton.

I don’t want to get too deep into that, because as the Devil can use scripture for his own purposes, one can read whatever they want into an individual poll. The thing is, though, we also have actual votes that have been cast, which really do tell us something. I can tell you that Democrats have done much better so far in Harris County than they did in 2012, and have won each of the first two days of early voting, after winning with mail ballots. Some of this is surely regular voters getting out there earlier than usual, and I don’t have the same data on the rest of the state, but just as surely Harris County isn’t an anomaly.

What I’m getting at is this: I think one has to strain to argue that Hillary Clinton won’t exceed Barack Obama’s vote total from 2008. I think she’s got a very good chance to exceed his vote percentage, though I’m not ready to declare that as a sure thing. We may argue afterwards if the increased vote total I expect Clinton will get represents a real bump in Democratic turnout, as 2008 for Obama did compared to 2004, or just a raise that was proportional to the overall population growth. But I don’t think we’ll be arguing over whether or not she did outperform him, in 2008 as well as in 2012.

As for 2018, I’m going to wait till this one is in the books before I get into that. It’s true that Donald Trump won’t be on the ballot, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be used as a motivating tool. It’s also true that while 2014 was a disastrous year for Texas Democrats, it wasn’t just a Texas problem. National conditions had a big effect on state elections in 2014, and in 2010 and 2006 and 2002 and so on, for that matter. What will national conditions be like in 2018? You’re a lot smarter than I am if you know the answer to that today.

Anyway. Early voting turnout was even higher on Day Two than it was on Day One. That’s actually in line with the historical pattern, as you can see from the handy early voting tracker spreadsheet that I’ve so thoughtfully included for you. Day Two was busier than Day One in all three previous Presidential years. Day Three was busier than Day Two in 2012 and 2008, too. And guess what? As you can see from the Day 3 EV report, Day Three was busier this year than Day Two was, too. It’s like there’s an established pattern or something, it’s just a matter of at what level. Another 76,098 in person votes, with 5,646 mail ballots arriving, and 287,134 total votes cast so far. The Day Three amount in 2012 was 197,987. We’re going to run out of voters eventually, but we could get an awful lot of votes cast before that happens.

Early voting, Day Two: How long can we keep this up?

Texas Monthly crunches some numbers from Day One:

EarlyVoting

Digging further into the numbers, it seems as though the long-whispered awakening of Texas Democrats happened, at the very least, on day one. GOP consultant Derek Ryan, who published a detailed report on the affiliations of Texas’s early voters, examined the voting history of Monday’s voters, and what he found was notable. Of the votes cast, 36.8 percent of them were from people who had previously voted in the Republican primary, while 32.8 percent of them had voted in the Democratic primary. The rest were split between people who had previously voted in general presidential elections but not party primaries (22.3 percent) and those with no election history whatsoever (8.1 percent).

We don’t know how those voters with history in party primaries are inclined to vote in the general election, but the mere fact that the numbers for Republicans and Democrats are only four points away from one another is significant in and of itself. As our own Erica Greider pointed out on Twitter Tuesday afternoon, Republican primary voters outnumbered Democratic primary voters by a whopping 2:1 margin. So on day one of early voting, a whole lot more of the Democrats who voted in the primaries felt the need to rush to the polls than the Republicans did.

There are other things we can glean from the early voting totals. The gender split here is vast: At least 54 percent of voters on Monday were women, while men made up 42.2 percent of the day’s electorate (the other 3.8 percent are unknown). That could be tricky for Trump, as Nate Silver’s imagined women-only electoral map analysis pointed out—Trump’s biggest base of support comes from men, and if men aren’t casting ballots at the same rate as women, he may have a lot of ground to make up.

And ultimately, all of this analysis is moot if the turnout numbers level off by the end of the week. It’s possible that we’re mostly going to see the same people vote in 2016 as we did in 2012. If that’s the case, the 8.1 percent of voters who haven’t previously cast general election ballots will be notable, but probably not significant enough to tilt the election.

Couple things here. First, the thing to keep in mind about the voters with no primary history is basically what Greider says. There have been a lot more Republican primary voters in recent elections than Democratic primary voters, so the pool of non-primary voters is proportionally more Democratic than the voting population overall since you’ve subtracted so many more Republicans from it. One of the harbingers of doom for Democrats in 2010 during early voting was exactly this – a large portion of these voters had not voted in the 2008 primary, which in Harris County at least meant they almost had to be non-Democrats, since the Dem primary turnout had been so large that year. These non-primary voters aren’t certain the be Dems, but they are more likely to be Dems than a random sample of all voters would be.

Having said that, many of those 2008 Dem primary voters still exist in the population, so this inference only goes so far. That analysis by Derek Ryan only specifies “previous R/D primary voters”; it does not specify “in one or more of the past 3 elections”, which would limit the scope to post-2008 primaries. It’s common to limit this sort of thing to the last three elections, but it’s not universal – the data exists in any database a guy like this would be using. I just don’t know for sure what Ryan has in mind.

For what it’s worth, I’ve seen an analysis of the in-person Harris County Day One vote that said 31% of voters had voted in at least one of the last three Republican primaries (that is, 2012, 2014, and 2015), with 32% having done the same in at least one Dem primary. That was in person only, so about half the total vote so far. Further analysis of the whole data set using other metrics suggests the Dems have a pretty decent lead at this time, which is unusual in that it’s usually the Rs who get out more on Day One and via mail. But this is only one day, and things do change over time. There’s a lot of early voting to go, and a lot of votes to be cast. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this.

Here are a couple of maps of where early voters came from for Day One and mail ballots. Here’s the Day Two EV report, which as you can see shows an increase in turnout from Monday: 73,542 people showed up Tuesday, an increase of a bit more than 6,000 from Monday. Add in another 2,834 mail ballots, and a grand total of 205,390 people have already voted in Harris County. (Including me – I voted at the SPJST Lodge for the first time. I’ve now voted in six different EV locations. Maybe I should try to collect them all.) I don’t know what the partisan mix looks like yet, but you can see the updated spreadsheet and make your own guesses. Have you voted yet?

Early voting, Day One: Hope you didn’t mind waiting on line

Lots of people were out there with you.

EarlyVoting

After more than 18 months of intensive election coverage, early voting kicked off in Harris County on Monday with long lines at some polling locations.

As polls closed at 6 p.m., more than 63,000 people had turned out for the first day of early voting, shattering the previous record of 47,093 set on day one of early voting in 2012.

In the first 2.5 hours of early voting, the Harris County Clerk’s office said 15,205 ballots were cast–one third of the total cast all day on the first day of early voting in 2012, about 47,000.

By the afternoon, the county was averaging 6,000 voters per hour, and the clerk’s office projected a record-breaking 60,000 votes by the time polls close.

When the clock struck 8 a.m. Monday, opening time for early voting, a line stretched out the door and across the patio at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Gray, typically among the county’s most popular polling spots.

Thanks no doubt to the later hours for early voting and the sheer volume, I don’t yet have the daily EV report for each location. I’ll post those as I get them, and I will add a new tab to this spreadsheet, which contains the daily EV totals for the 2004, 2008, and 2012 elections. The 2008 election has the reputation for being the blow-the-doors-off one for early voting, but 2012 did indeed have a higher volume, both on Day One and overall. It also had more EV locations, which no doubt helped ease things a bit.

Not mentioned in this story is that as of the weekend, over 52,000 mail ballots had been returned already, with another 60,000 or so still out and still a few days left to request them. I’ll have more on this as we go, and I don’t want to draw any broad conclusions from such limited data, but it sure seems like we are headed for a record total of ballots cast. Not just here, but around the state.

Avoiding long lines on Election Day is supposed to be one of the benefits of voting early, but on the first official day to cast ballots in Texas, some parts of the state reported long waits — sometimes hours — along with a few other snafus.

Particularly long waits were reported in parts of Bexar, Harris, Nueces and Denton counties, with one expert suggesting this year’s intense presidential campaign prompted an early rush to the polls.

[…]

Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, suggested the intensity of this year’s presidential race spurred some voters to rush to the polls.

“This has been such a drawn out, intense and polarizing election that there’s this reservoir of voters that couldn’t wait to cast their vote, so they all rushed out to vote early on the first of 12 days of early voting,” he said, likening the phenomenon to opening day at an amusement park.

Jones said he expected the interest to level out over most of the early voting period, with high turnout on its last day, Nov. 4.

He also noted that the high turnout was spread unevenly within counties and across the state.

Indeed, on social media, many voters reported short wait times to The Texas Tribune.

That’s a function of a lot of things – some locations are always more popular than others (see: the Metro Multi-Service Center on West Gray for Exhibit A), and some places have enough voting machines to better handle a sudden influx.

RG Ratcliffe has an idea about who may be voting.

Throughout this election, I’ve been skeptical that Hillary Clinton could carry Texas, even as polls suggested the gap in support between her and Donald Trump is closing. But there is a wild card that might make it possible: There are 532,000 more registered Hispanic surname voters this year than in 2012.

Over the past week or so, one news story after another has touted the close race between Clinton and Trump in Texas. The gap has closed, but Clinton seems to be stuck at the same level of support that President Obama received in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Obama received just under 44 percent of the vote in 2008 and 41 percent in 2012. Clinton received 43 percent in the CBS/YouGov poll; 41 percent in the UPI/CVOTER; 46 percent in Washington Post/Survey Monkey; and 38 percent in the University of Houston poll. All the while, Trump’s numbers have declined in Texas from a solid majority to levels in the mid 40s. Three out of the four recent surveys put the gap between Clinton and Trump within the margin of error. Trump’s gaffes and personal history have led to voters fleeing his campaign.

Still, the formula for a Clinton victory in Texas has always required that somewhere between 950,000 and 1.2 million people who voted for Obama’s Republican opponents either switching to the Democratic candidate or sitting out the race. It’s now looking like at least half those voters may do exactly that by either not voting in the presidential race or by casting a ballot for one of the third-party candidates, Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Jill Stein. The other half of the gap conceivably could be closed by newly registered Hispanic voters.

RG’s point about Clinton’s level of support in the polls is well-taken, though I would note that poll averages have underestimated candidates of both parties in the last two elections. As for the rest, well, that is certainly the hope.

I’ll have Day One data in tomorrow’s post. Have you voted yet? What was your experience? I expect to vote today and will let you know how it goes. If you haven’t voted yet, Andrea Greer explains why early voting is the way to go. The Current and the Press have more.

UPDATE: Here is the Day One EV report from the County Clerk. I’ll begin adding these numbers to the spreadsheet today.

Lots of absentee ballots in Harris County this year

From the inbox:

vote-button

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart announced today that over 90,000 ballots have been mailed to voters who requested to vote by mail in the November 8, 2016 General and Special Elections. The number of ballots mailed is the highest ever processed in Harris County for any election.

“The Super Bowl of Elections has kicked-off. Voters who have submitted a request to vote by mail will be receiving their ballot in the coming days. Voters should stay alert and watch their mailbox,” urged Stanart, the County’s Chief Election officer. “This initial batch of ballots includes voters who submitted a request for a mail ballot as of September 23 of this calendar year. Requests to vote by mail, which are received before the October 28 deadline, will be promptly processed and dropped in the mail for delivery.”

Voters receiving mail ballots are encouraged to vote and return the ballot without delay following these steps:
1. Use BLACK or BLUE ink to mark your choices on the ballot;
2. Place voted ballot in the Ballot Envelope and seal it;
3. Place Ballot Envelope in the enclosed pre-addressed County Clerk carrier envelope;
4. Seal carrier envelope and sign where indicated exactly as you signed the ballot by mail request;
5. Place appropriate postage on the carrier envelope.
6. Mail the carrier envelope containing your ballot early enough for receipt well before Election Day;

“There are approximately 392,000 voters in Harris County who meet the age requirement to vote by mail. I would not be surprised if the number of mail ballot requests for this election exceeds 100,000,” concluded Stanart. Texans can vote by mail if they are registered to vote and meet one of the following criteria: Away from the county of residence on Election Day and during the early voting period; Sick or disabled; 65 years of age or older on Election Day; or Confined in jail, but eligible to vote.

To find an application to vote by mail and other election information, voters may visit the Harris County Clerk’s Office election website www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

What is it I most like to do when presented with a number? Compare it to other numbers to try to put it in context. How impressive is 90,000 mail ballots? Let’s look at the most recent Presidential elections in Harris County and see for ourselves.

In 2012, there were 76,085 mail ballots returned, which was 6.3% of 1,204,167 total votes in the county.

In 2008, there were 67,612 mail ballots returned, or 5.7% of 1,188,731 total votes.

And in 2004, there were 47,619 mail ballots returned, for 4.4% of the 1,088,793 total.

Bearing in mind that Stan Stanart has estimated turnout of 1.4 million this November, 90,000 mail ballots out of 1.4 million voters would be 6.4% of the total. An absolute increase, but not a relative one. In this KHOU story, Stanart says the final total could well exceed 100,000. That would be 7.1% of 1.4 million, which is more in line with previous upticks. We’ll see where the final number lands?

Does this have any effect on the final results, even at the margins? Mail voters are generally older – everyone over the age of 65 is eligible to vote by mail – so they tend to be Republican. However, the Harris County Democratic Party has been aggressively pursuing a vote-by-mail strategy, and is touting its success in getting ballots to Democratic voters. I can’t say what that will look like this November, but I can say what it did look like in the last three Presidential Novembers:


Year   R total   D total   R Pct   D Pct
========================================
2012    43,270    31,414  57.56%  41.70%
2008    41,986    24,503  62.72%  36.60%
2004    29,926    17,010  63.36%  36.01%

All vote totals are taken from the Presidential races that year, so the R totals are (respectively) for Romney, McCain, and Bush. Democrats have made up a larger percentage of the absentee voter universe lately, but the total increase in absentee ballots has been evenly split between R and D voters. Maybe that will be different this year – we’ll have to see after the results get posted. It’s still a relatively small number of votes, so the effect would be small as well. In addition, it’s still not clear to me how many of these mail voters that the Dems have recruited are people who would have voted in person had they not been provided an absentee ballot. My guess is that the actual increase in Democratic voters is modest, but I don’t know enough to quantify that. This is what I do know. We’ll come back to this for the postmortem later.

Now let’s take on the revenue cap

With the pension issue settled, this can be the next big item on Mayor Turner’s to-do list.

BagOfMoney

Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to ask city voters next fall to do away with a decade-old cap on city revenues, but for now he’s stuck with it.

So City Council on Wednesday will consider cutting Houston’s property tax rate for the third time in three years, saving taxpayers money but also straining city coffers at a time when rising pension and debt costs risk forcing widespread layoffs and service reductions next summer.

The rate proposed to be set – 58.642 cents per $100 of property value – is the lowest since 1987, and represents an 8.2 percent drop since the cap took effect.

“We’re a growing, dynamic, vibrant city and we have a lot of needs,” Turner said. “People want us to be cost efficient and fiscally prudent and we are demonstrating that, but people want more police out on the street – that costs money. They want more paramedics – that costs money. They want better streets, flooding, those things cost money. For us to be forced to lower our property rates … it doesn’t make good sense.”

[…]

If the cap had not come into force, Houston would have been able to collect a projected $220 million more in the current fiscal year and the two prior ones, officials estimate.

During the same time period, the owner of a $200,000 Houston home with a standard homestead exemption will have saved about $84 in taxes, compared with the cap never having taken effect.

“People really haven’t seen the benefits of that,” Turner said. “They’re not feeling that.”

That’s an awful lot of revenue to forego for some $28 a year in savings. The revenue cap has always been a bad idea, based on a bad theory of economics, and we’re lucky to have escaped its effects before now. With the pension reform plan in place, Mayor Turner will have the capital to go to the voters and ask them to fix this error. Good riddance when that happens.

Endorsement watch: A Libertarian moment

The Chron thinks outside the box in endorsing for the Railroad Commission.

Mark Miller

Mark Miller

Our editorial board interviews scores of candidates for political office every election year, but seldom do we find ourselves wholeheartedly endorsing a nominee from the Libertarian Party. Then again, seldom have we met a Libertarian candidate like Mark Miller.

Ask this man anything at all about the Railroad Commission of Texas and he’ll give you a straight, smart answer informed not only by decades of working in the industry and teaching petrochemical engineering at the University of Texas, but also by a mastery of the issues facing the energy business and the state body that regulates it. He’s an affable retired oil and gas man with a doctorate from Stanford University who’s so interested in this agency he literally wrote a book on the railroad commission.

With impressive clarity and authority, Miller offers well-informed opinions on a litany of arcane issues involving the energy industry: why the Texas Legislature needs to resolve the conflict between the owners of surface rights and mineral rights, why the state should dramatically reduce the number of permits for flaring natural gas, why Texas needs to figure out how to plug oil wells left unplugged by companies that go bankrupt. This guy clearly knows what he’s talking about.

By comparison, none of the other candidates for this office have actually worked in the industry they propose to help oversee. Wayne Christian, the Republican nominee, earned a troublesome reputation as a combative bomb-thrower in the state Legislature; he helped craft a shamefully self-serving amendment exempting his own Bolivar Peninsula home from the Texas Open Beaches Act, and Texas Monthly twice rated him one of the state’s worst lawmakers. Grady Yarbrough, the Democratic nominee, is a retired school teacher whose background seems better suited to an education post. Martina Salinas, the Green Party nominee, is an earnest construction inspector from the Fort Worth area who, again, never worked in the energy business.

I don’t have any particular quarrel with the recommendation. Experience is a somewhat overrated qualification for the RRC, given that its Commissioners (those with industry experience and those without it) tend to be rubber stamps for the industry they purportedly regulate anyway. Certainly, Wayne Christian will do whatever his overlords tell him to do, so in that sense it doesn’t matter whether or not he understands anything about what he’s doing. Maybe Grady Yarbrough will take advice from other sources, who knows. At least he’ll have to be more visible if he somehow gets elected.

Endorsement aside – it would not shock me if Miller collects more than one such recommendation, given the other choices – the more interesting question is whether Miller can break the five percent barrier in this race. Libertarians and Greens have relied in recent years on statewide races in which there was no Democrat running to place a candidate who can top that mark and thus guarantee ballot access for all statewide races for their team. This year, those tricky Democrats actually ran candidates for all statewide offices, meaning the Ls and the Gs are going to have to do this the hard way if they want to be on the statewide ballot in 2020. (The hard way involves collecting a sufficient number of petition signatures, possibly with a little help from friends of convenience.) The question I want to answer is: Have any Libertarian or Green Party statewide candidates cracked the five percent mark in a statewide race that featured both an R and a D in recent years?

We go to the Secretary of State election returns for that. Here are the high statewide scorers for the Ls and the Gs in such races in Presidential years:


Year    Candidate     Party       Race    Pct
=============================================
2012      L Stott       Lib        CCA  3.26%
2012    C Kennedy       Grn        RRC  1.99%

2008      D Floyd       Lib        RRC  3.52%

2004     A Garcia       Lib        RRC  3.60%

2000     M Ruwart       Lib     Senate  1.16%
2000      R Nader       Grn  President  2.15%

(Note: There were no statewide Green candidates in 2004 or 2008.) Doesn’t look too promising. How about in the non-Presidential years?


Year    Candidate     Party       Race    Pct
=============================================
2014    M Bennett       Lib        CCA  3.61%
2014    M Salinas       Grn        RRC  2.03%

2010  J Armstrong       Lib     Sup Ct  4.04%
2010   A Browning       Grn        RRC  1.49%

2006      J Baker       Lib     Lt Gov  4.36%

2002  B Hernandez       Lib  Land Comm  4.12%
2002  O Jefferson       Grn        CCA  1.74%

(Note: There were no statewide Green candidates in 2006.) Not much better. Note that total turnout is a factor – Jack Armstrong (195K) received more votes than Judy Baker (188K) or Barbara Hernandez (180K), but he was running in a much higher turnout environment, so his percentage was lower. By the way, Mark Miller and Martina Salinas were both candidates for the RRC in 2014 as well; Miller received 3.15% of the vote, against R and D candidates who were much better qualified than the ones running this year. Make of that what you will. To get back to my original question, I’d say both Ls and Gs will be relying on their Presidential candidate for their best chance to crack the five percent mark. I’d give Gary Johnson a decent shot at it, but Jill Stein? I figure if Ralph Nader couldn’t get halfway there in 2000, Stein is unlikely to be the one. There’s always the petitions.

Independent candidate lawsuit update

There’s already been a lawsuit filed by a wannabe independent candidate for President seeking to get on the ballot in Texas, but not by that guy you might have heard of.

Will not be on the ballot

Will not be on the ballot

It’s still up in the air whether Evan McMullin, a former CIA agent who declared his presidential candidacy this month, will make it on the ballot here.

The deadline to file to run as an independent in Texas, and turn in petitions signed by nearly 80,000 voters who didn’t vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary elections was in May. The deadline to file to run as a write-in candidate was earlier this month.

McMullin, of Salt Lake City — who has gotten his name on ballots in a handful of states including Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota and Utah — has indicated he may sue to get on the Texas ballot.

His political strategists have suggested that a legal challenge might find success in Texas, since the deadline to file as an independent this year fell before Democrats and Republicans knew who their general election candidate would be.

McMullin campaign staffers didn’t respond to requests for information about whether a court challenge in Texas is moving forward.

Texas election officials say they have not received a lawsuit from McMullin. But they did send him a letter letting him know he was not certified as a write-in candidate.

“Our office did not receive the required 38 presidential elector candidate forms from active voters,” according to the letter written by Keith Ingram, director of elections for the Texas secretary of state’s office. “Please be advised that your name will not be on the ballot.”

McMullin’s staff is still sending out emails to potential supporters saying, “It’s never too late to stand for what is right.”

Another lawsuit to get a presidential candidate on the Texas ballot is proceeding for now.

Souraya Faas of Florida sued Texas and Secretary of State Carlos Cascos in May claiming that state restrictions “on independent presidential candidacy and ballot access violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.”

“Souraya Faas seeks the presidency of the United States and to give the voters a choice to vote for her as an independent candidate in Texas,” the lawsuit states. “Since she announced her candidacy, the presidential campaigns within the major political parties have devolved into unprecedented rancor.

“The front-runners for the major party nominations are viewed as unpopular and undesirable by a not insignificant number of party partisans and independent voters.”

Now Faas is asking the court to declare unconstitutional parts of the Texas election code that “deny equal protection for independent presidential candidates.”

“Texas’ statutory scheme imposes a greater burden on the rights of voters and independent candidates than other states,” her lawsuit states.

The case could be thrown out soon if Faas doesn’t submit documents showing why the case shouldn’t be dismissed, according to court records filed in the Southern District of Texas Houston Division.

See here for more on Evan McMullin and his talk about suing to get on the ballot in Texas. I hesitate to be more definitive than that, as we are near the statutory deadline for printing overseas ballots and he still hasn’t done anything more than make vague statements about maybe doing something. As for Souraya Faas, she’s apparently been in the race for awhile. Here’s some information on her lawsuit, which was filed back in May. Why she would be successful where Ralph Nader wasn’t is unclear to me, and that’s before we contemplate her apparent lack of submitting documents for her case. My guess is that in another week or two we’ll not hear anything from or about either of these two again.

It’s not crazy to think that a downballot Democrat could win statewide this year

I’ll get to that headline in a minute. I’ve got some reading to sort through first. We’ll start with the most pessimistic, or perhaps the least blue-sky, story of how things are likely to go.

Arizona. Georgia. Utah. Indiana. Is Texas next?

Across the country in recent days, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has suffered polling collapses in a slew of traditionally conservative states. The deterioration raises the question: Is Trump such a catastrophic Republican standard-bearer that Democrats could actually poach their ultimate white whale, the Lone Star State?

No.

That’s the consensus of a raft of state and national Democratic insiders who discussed with the Tribune the possibility of Hillary Clinton winning Texas in November.

“I think that it could set off a little bit of a panic among Republicans, but you’re not going to see banners flying and people marching into Texas saying, ‘We’re gonna turn Texas blue,'” said Matt Angle, a Democratic operative with Texas roots.

[…]

So, what would an incremental victory look like for Texas Democrats on Election Day?

Party infrastructure was the mantra in several interviews. The aim is to excite dormant Texas Democratic voters into volunteering for the first time in a generation, even if it is out of distaste for Trump. Even now, Texas volunteers are phone banking to battleground state voters elsewhere in the country.

“We know it’s going to be a multi-cycle endeavor, but these numbers reinforce that we are making significant movement, particularly with Texas’ diverse new majority,” said Manny Garcia, the deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.

State Democrats are also cautiously hopeful they can make gains in the Legislature, and maybe lay the groundwork for a viable campaign against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 when he is up for re-election.

Amid the cautious optimism, Democrats are willing to concede that anything is believable given the erratic nature of the Trump campaign.

Former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, an Arlington Democrat, echoed many Democratic insiders when he said he has heard no chatter about competing for Texas in the fall.

“This is a crazy election,” he said. “Anything can happen, but I still think Texas is a reach.”

A more optimistic take on where things stand.

The [PPP] poll shows Trump leading Clinton by a 44-to-38 percent margin, with his strongest support among senior-age Texans, especially men. Among that group, the New York business tycoon holds a 63-33 percent lead.

With voters under age 65, Clinton leads 49-35. For those under 45, she leads Trump 60-35.

Among nonwhite voters in Texas, Clinton has a 73-21 percent lead, according to the poll conducted by the Democrat-leaning polling firm Friday through Sunday of 944 likely voters; the poll has a margin of error of plus- or minus-3.2 percentage points.

That split, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, who has studied how the changing generational demographics of voters affects elections, could be the most significant statistic from the poll and other recent surveys that have highlighted a similar trend in Texas.

“This election is an outlier because Trump in many ways transcends ideology and party,” Jones said. “The older the voters, the more likely they are to vote Republican. The younger the voters, the more likely they are to vote Democratic. And the Republicans’ base in Texas is growing older.”

[…]

Statewide, an estimated 14 million Texans are registered to vote, an increase of about 1 million voters over the last four years, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees elections. Whether those are new Republicans or Democrats or independents is unknown, and party affiliation is determined by which primary a voter casts his or her ballot.

Officials in fast-growing Williamson County, in staunchly conservative GOP territory just north of Austin, said their registration numbers are up significantly.

During the 2008 presidential race, Williamson County accounted for just more than 220,000 of the state’s registered voters. The most current figures put Williamson County’s voter total at 294,329.

In Fort Bend County, a fast-growing GOP suburban stronghold southwest of Houston, elections administrator John Oldham said registrations have grown by 25 percent since 2008. That has added nearly 100,000 new voters to the rolls in just under eight years, he said.

Oldham estimated that about half of recently registered have not had Anglo or Hispanic surnames. Many have last names traditionally associated with Asian, Middle Eastern and African heritages, he said.

“That’s where we’re seeing a lot of growth,” he said.

For Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, surburban areas like Fort Bend County are the places to watch in November.

“Republicans in Texas have dominated the suburban vote, and that’s been one reason for their success,” Rottinghaus said. “But in this election, Trump is doing poorly among these voters – the suburban women, college-educated voters who are younger. (Gov. Greg) Abbott and (U.S. Sen. Ted) Cruz still do well there, but crossover voting in the suburbs could cause a moment that might allow the Democrats to do better.

“That is how the Republicans got their foot in the door in congressional elections years ago,” he added.

And finally, an X factor to consider.

There are now 272 electoral votes in states that RCP rates as leaning toward Clinton, likely to go to her or solidly in her column. Another 112 come from states rated as tossups (plus Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, from which an elector is chosen independent of the statewide result). On Wednesday morning, Clinton had a lead in six of those eight states, including a statistically insignificant three-tenths-of-a-point edge in Deep South Georgia.

Furthermore, in talking to Democratic and Republican strategists in recent days, it has become clear that the polls could be significantly underestimating the Clinton margins that we’ll see on Election Day. Here’s why: Clinton has poured money into both television advertising and field organizing even in states where she has an outside chance of winning while Trump has been inactive.

Republican and Democratic experts in field organizing say that a tiptop organization can make a small but significant difference — maybe as many as four or five percentage points — in a particular state. That is, where Clinton’s building an operation and Trump isn’t, polls are likely underrepresentative of her strength.

In a chat last week on the social media platform Sidewire, former Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn and GOP strategist Doug Heye lamented the absence of a Trump field operation on the ground in the battleground Hawkeye State.

“The boots have largely been outsourced to the RNC staff that’s been on [the] ground. They are hustling to staff up,” Strawn said. “And as everyone learned watching Hillary [and] Bernie battle during caucuses, if it comes down to mechanics versus message at the end … well, we know how that turned out.”

That last one isn’t about Texas at all, and it may be irrelevant to the discussion at hand, since Republican Presidential campaigns don’t bother investing in Texas for the same reason that Democratic ones don’t – there’s no reason to. But there is a correlation between the national level and the state level, and if there are concerns about Republican turnout nationally – and there are, and they go beyond worries about campaign infrastructure – then there are concerns about it here as well, if not necessarily as great.

Which leads me to a conclusion that I’ve seen only articulated once, briefly, in the Beatty memo, which is this: It’s not crazy to think that Texas Democrats could win a statewide race or two this November.

Note that I am not talking about the Presidential race. The Beatty memo suggests that the Railroad Commissioner’s race could go either way, as nobody knows who the candidates are. I’m thinking more about the races for Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals, for which the Dems have a full slate of candidates. The same argument about nobody knowing who the candidates are holds, but there’s also the numbers, for all of these races.

Look at it this way: A six-point Trump win in Texas, which is consistent with that PPP poll, translates to roughly a 400,000-vote margin for Trump. To pick some numbers out of the sky, a victory by Trump of 4,000,000 votes to 3,600,000 votes – a drop of about 12.5% for Trump from Mitt Romney’s 2012 total, with an increase of about nine percent for Hillary Clinton over President Obama in 2012 – would translate to 52.6% for Trump to 47.4% for Clinton in a two-person race. That’s a little less than six percent, but grant me that much optimism. (For the record, 4.1 million votes for Trump to 3.6 million for Clinton would be 53.2% to 46.8%, or a 6.4 point difference, so assume we’re somewhere in the middle if you want.) All disclaimers aside, I think we can all agree that as things stand today, a result like this is in the ballpark.

Now here’s the thing: There’s always some level of dropoff from the Presidential level to the downballot level. In the three most recent Presidential elections, there has been much more dropoff on the Republican side than on the Democratic side.


2004

Bush -  4,526,917
Kerry - 2,832,704

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Carrillo      3,891,482   635,435    14.0%
Brister       4,093,854   433,063     9.6%
Keasler       3,990,315   536,602    11.9%

Scarborough   2,872,717       N/A      N/A
Van Os        2,817,700    15,004     0.5%
Molina        2,906,720       N/A      N/A


2008

McCain - 4,479,328
Obama  - 3,528,633

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Williams      4,003,789   475,539    10.6%
Jefferson     4,092,181   387,147     8.6%
Wainwright    3,926,015   553,313    12.4%
Johnson       4,018,396   460,932    10.3%
Price         3,948,722   530,606    11.8%

Thompson      3,406,174   122,459     3.5%
Jordan        3,374,433   154,200     4.4%
Houston       3,525,141     3,492     0.0%
Yanez         3,428,179   100,454     2.8%
Strawn        3,482,718    45,915     1.3%


2012

Romney - 4,569,843
Obama  - 3,308,124

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Craddick      4,336,499    233,344    5.1%
Hecht         4,127,493    442,350    9.7%
Keller        4,257,024    312,819    6.8%

Henry         3,057,733    250,391    7.6%
Petty         3,219,948     88,176    2.7%
Hampton       3,163,825    144,299    4.4%

Republicans did better in 2012 than in 2008, to which I attribute greater enthusiasm on their part, which led to more straight-ticket and general downballot voting. They obviously had a lot of enthusiasm in 2004, but they also had some crossover votes at the Presidential level, as well as (I believe) a decent number of people who turned out just to vote for President. Dems, on the other hand, had less dropoff in every race except one, and in most cases the difference between R dropoff and D dropoff was large. I attribute that in one part to good messaging about straight-ticket voting, especially in 2008, and one part being that if you bothered to show up and vote for a Democratic Presidential candidate in Texas, you were probably pretty committed to the party as a whole.

I think this year combines the lack of enthusiasm on the Republican side that we saw in 2008, plus the possibility of people showing up to just vote for Trump and nobody else, like in 2004. Against that, some number of people who normally vote for Republican Presidential candidates will do something else in that race this year, then vote normally after that. Put it all together, and I think the likelihood of Republican dropoff in the 2004 and 2008 ranges is a reasonably likely outcome this year.

If that is the case, and if we are indeed headed for a Presidential race with roughly a six-point differential between Trump and Clinton, then the math is clear. Four million less ten percent is 3.6 million, or what I’m projecting Clinton to get. Sure, there will be some Democratic dropoff as well, but you could have 11 or 12 percent loss on the R side, with only one percent or so for a given D. That will vary from candidate to candidate for reasons none of us can predict or will understand, but that’s my whole point: Under these conditions, we’re basically at a coin toss for downballot statewide races. And if that happens, we could see one or more Democrats squeak past their opponents and win their races. Looking at the numbers for the two most recent elections above, Sam Houston and Susan Strawn would have won in this environment, with Mark Thompson, Linda Yanez, and Michelle Petty (2012) falling just short. All they needed was for the Presidential race to have been sufficiently close.

Now as always, this comes with a pile of caveats – the election is still three months away, this is based on one poll, even a seven or eight point lead for Trump would almost certainly render all this moot, there could be a whole lot of Johnson-plus-downballot-GOP voters, etc etc etc. I’m absolutely not saying this will happen, nor am I saying it is likely to happen. I am saying it is possible, and conditions could become better for it rather than worse. I wouldn’t have said this a month ago, and the next poll result may make me want to throw this whole post into the trash, but my original statement stands: As things look right now, it’s not crazy to consider the possibility that at least one downballot statewide Democrat could win this fall.

So now that we’ve had this thought, what are we going to do about it? I’ll address that in the next post.

Evan McMullin to sue for ballot access in Texas

You know, that guy who recently turned up as the latest NeverTrump dreamboat? He wants on the ballot in Texas.

Will not be on the ballot

Will not be on the ballot

Independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, an ex-CIA officer and congressional policy wonk who launched his campaign last week to offer “Never Trump” Republicans a conservative option, faces a steep political challenge gaining enough support to affect the November election.

And by jumping into the race so late, McMullin will need to clear significant legal hurdles, as well. Filing deadlines for independent candidates in more than half of the states have already passed, and several more deadlines are fast approaching.

That will mean going to court — including in Texas, where an independent had to gather nearly 80,000 signatures by May.

“Our intention in Texas is to file a legal challenge, and we think that the great people of Texas will agree with us that there shouldn’t be artificial boundaries on the kinds of people that can run for president,” said Joel Searby, the campaign’s chief strategist.

Noting that Texas’ May 9 petition deadline — by far the earliest in the country — fell long before the Democratic and Republican nominating conventions, Searby argues that prospective independent candidates were unable to take into consideration the choices of the two major parties before deciding whether to run.

“There’s just so many restrictions on ballot access in Texas, and Texas is generally a very open and independent and free-thinking kind of place,” Searby said. “So we don’t think the people of Texas are going to want to keep that law.”

A general counsel is coordinating the campaign’s ballot access efforts across multiple states, Searby said, and the campaign has also been in touch with Texas lawyers. Garland attorney Matthew Sawyer, who worked on Texas business magnate Ross Perot’s Reform Party presidential run in 1996, has reportedly been involved with the effort. Reached by phone last week, Sawyer directed all questions to the campaign.

Ballot access experts are split on McMullin’s chances of winning a federal lawsuit. To Richard Winger, the editor of Ballot Access News and a longtime activist on the issue, McMullin’s case is a slam dunk, particularly in Texas.

“Texas is in a class by itself. The Texas deadline is impossible to defend,” Winger said. Pointing to the later deadline for independent candidates running for offices in Texas other than president, Winger contends there is “powerful evidence that the presidential deadline is unconstitutional, and that’s all he needs to show.”

But prominent Texas election attorney Buck Wood, who has represented several state-level candidates challenging independent ballot restrictions in the past, sees it exactly the other way.

“I don’t see any possibility of him getting on the ballot in Texas,” Wood said. “Just because you made your decision too late is not an excuse. You have to go back and say, even had we made the decision back then, it still would have been so onerous as to have been unconstitutional, and the chances of that are nil.”

The story recounts the process for getting on the ballot as an independent in Texas, and also notes that Ralph Nader tried and failed to sue his way onto the ballot in 2004 after coming up short in the signature-collecting process. My money’s with Buck Wood on this one, but I don’t really care one way or another. Nobody knows who Evan McMullin is – he basically got zero percent in that PPP poll – and he’s extremely unlikely to raise the kind of dough to become any better known to Texas voters. If I had to guess, I’d say that any votes he does get will come primarily at the expense of Gary Johnson, who is already an alternative for some NeverTrumpers who can’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton. McMullin could do what Nader ultimately did in Texas and file a declaration to be counted as a write-in candidate, but the deadline for that is Monday, and he doesn’t have a running mate yet as required. So, you know, tick tock tick tock. I’ll keep an eye on this because that’s what I do, but I don’t expect anything interesting to come of it. Link via Burkablog.

Still no indies

Just a reminder that no matter who or what may be the flavor of the month, the deadline for filing as an independent candidate for President in Texas was last month.

Will not be on the ballot

Will not be on the ballot

If an independent presidential candidate wanted to get on the November ballot in Texas, at this point they would face sky-high hurdles — not the least of which being that the deadline has already passed. So someone like David French, a lawyer and writer rumored to be a prospect, would have to wage a costly legal battle against Texas’ ballot procedures, considered among the most challenging in the country for independent candidates.

“I think Mr. French would have a real, real hard time of doing it and would have to spend a lot of money,” said James Linger, an Oklahoma attorney who worked for Ralph Nader when he sued to get on the ballot in Texas in 2004. “Even if the deadline were moved back, I think he would be in a hard situation in a place like Texas.”

Ballot access in the Lone Star State has gotten more attention than usual during the 2016 presidential race as Republicans dissatisfied with their presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, contemplate an independent or third-party alternative. It was reported throughout Tuesday that French, a conservative lawyer from Tennessee, is considering running as an independent at the urging of Trump opponents such as Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol.

Even those sympathetic to the anti-Trump cause acknowledge French’s success would depend on overcoming many obstacles — including his ability to challenge procedures in Texas, whose May 9 ballot deadline was by far the earliest among all 50 states.

[…]

The May 9 deadline came and went in Texas without any candidates applying to run for president as an independent. To do so would have required 79,939 signatures, or 1 percent of the total votes cast for all candidates in the previous presidential election.

The next major deadline in Texas is June 23, which is when independent non-presidential candidates must apply for the ballot. Those filing under that deadline must have submitted a statement declaring their intent to run with the secretary of state’s office by Dec. 14, 2015.

At least one ballot-access expert, Richard Winger, believes the June 23 deadline is vulnerable to a legal challenge because, in his estimation, there is no state interest in making independent presidential candidates file 52 days before their non-presidential counterparts. That was a criteria established by Anderson v. Celebrezze, a 1983 case in which the high court struck down Ohio’s March deadline for independent presidential candidates.

“They have to come up with a state interest because this does harm voting rights,” said Winger, the editor of Ballot Access News. Noting the high court “has never given any comfort at all to supporters of early deadlines,” Winger estimated someone who takes Texas to court over its independent candidates deadlines would have a “75 percent” chance of prevailing.

See here for the background. The only thing that has changed since the May 9 deadline for filing as an indy (with the accompanying petition signature requirements) is the presence of a potential candidate. If you’ve never heard of David French – and honestly, why should you? – I recommend a quick look at what Roy Edroso and Martin Longman can tell you. Beyond that, as noted in the story Ralph Nader sued to get on the ballot in 2004 after failing to collect enough signatures to qualify. A federal court judge ruled that Texas’ ballot access laws were constitutional; this ruling was subsequently affirmed by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. I don’t know why the odds of success for a lawsuit would be any better this year than they were in 2004, but I Am Not A Lawyer, so pay no attention to me. Of course, first French would have to actually declare his intention to run, and then he’d have to file a lawsuit, and all of that needs to happen in a fairly short time frame, so we return to my original premise: There ain’t gonna be no independent candidates for President on the ballot in Texas. Feel free to write in whoever you want, but don’t expect any more than that.

No indies

Not in Texas and not for President, anyway.

Will not be on the ballot

Will not be on the ballot

[Last] Monday was the deadline for independent candidates for president to get on the ballot in Texas.

Nobody showed up.

The Texas Secretary of State’s office, which administers elections, closed its doors Monday afternoon with no applications. And they would have noticed, too: Independent candidates have to submit their names along with petitions from 79,939 registered voters who, like the candidates themselves, did not take part in either the Republican or Democratic primaries.

That’s a pile of paper.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s imminent nomination as the Republican Party’s candidate for president, there has been some chatter in conservative ranks about a third-party candidate more palatable to the GOP establishment.

It’s getting late for that. The general election is in six months, and state deadlines for filing are starting to come up on the calendar.

As the story notes, a would-be independent candidate could possibly sue to get on Texas’ ballot, following the example of John Anderson in 1980. That presumes that such a candidate exists and has the wherewithal to file and successfully argue a lawsuit. And that presumes that such a candidate would want to be on the ballot in Texas, which if one is aiming to be the “not Trump alternative that unhappy conservatives can support” one probably does. (Mark Cuban has already declined to be that candidate.) Time’s a-wastin’, that’s all I’m saying. One can also file as an official write-in candidate, which is to say a write-in candidate whose votes actually get counted, but one should keep one’s expectations low if one chooses that path. The high-water mark for a write-in candidate in any Presidential race going back to 1992 is 9,159 votes in 2004 by Ralph Nader, and it’s fair to say he was better known than your average write-in would be. It was also worth 0.12% of the vote, so just a little bit short of a majority. But hey, dream big.

Still debating the Trump effect in Texas

This time with input from trained professionals.

Republicans say it’s just wishful thinking, but Democrats are hoping that Trump’s controversial comments will make some GOP voters stay home in protest and boost the number of Democrats going to the polls to vote against him if he becomes one of the presidential nominees. If that happens, it could help Democrats down the ballot.

“Democrats know they have no choice but to turn out and vote,” said Deborah Peoples, who heads the Tarrant County Democratic Party. “The more caustic and divisive that Trump’s message becomes — and he has insulted every group in America — the more it energizes people to turn out and do something.

“And if Republicans decide to stay home and Democrats decide not to stay home, it could be a good thing for us in Tarrant County.”

Either of those options could affect candidates farther down the ballot, from state representatives to constables, who already see fewer votes than candidates at the top of the ballot.

Local Republicans say they hope Democrats don’t get their hopes too high over the possibilities if Trump is the GOP presidential nominee.

“I think there will definitely be a Trump effect,” said Jennifer Hall, who heads the Tarrant County Republican Party. “Trump affected almost every vote in the primary — people either came out to vote for him or against him.

“But we are hearing from a number of Democrats who say if Trump is our nominee, they will vote for him,” she said. “They say they like him better than Hillary [Clinton] or Bernie [Sanders].”

[…]

“County and city races may be hardest hit, along with judicial races,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston. “Without a steady Republican turnout, the usual higher turnout in a presidential election will bring more Democrats and may cost the party some local seats.

“When given a reason, Democrats do turn out in big numbers, especially in presidential elections,” he said. “Trump’s bombastic political swagger may encourage less frequent Democrats to get to the polls and spike Democratic numbers around the area.”

Not only that, but GOP candidates in general might be tainted for some voters.

“The image of Republican candidates in down-ballot races would be tarnished in the eyes of some regular Republican voters due to their indirect association with Trump as their party’s presidential standard bearer,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

“Trump’s anti-Latino rhetoric would be utilized by Democrats to ramp up Latino turnout and to drive a wedge between Latinos and the Republican Party,” he said. “Since Latinos in Texas tend to lean Democratic, higher Latino turnout alone will benefit Democrats, let alone if formerly Republican leaning Latinos switch their support to Democratic candidates as a result of Trump’s candidacy.”

We’ve discussed this before, and I’ll say once again that the way to move away from pure speculation and into slightly better-informed speculation is to get some polling data. Downballot races are where any effects will be felt, but a macro view of the statewide mood will help us gauge what those effects might be. Harris County, with its knife-edge balance these last two Presidential years, could definitely look a lot different after November. As for Tarrant County, it’s been an amazingly accurate mirror of statewide Presidential results over the past few cycles:


Year  Tarrant R  Texas R  Tarrant D  Texas D
============================================
2012     57.12%   57.17%     41.43%   41.38%
2008     55.43%   55.45%     43.73%   43.68%
2004     62.39%   61.09%     37.01%   38.22%

It will be interesting to see if that holds again this year. Maybe someone can just do a poll of Tarrant Count as a proxy for the state as a whole. We don’t have statewide poll numbers yet, but as do know that Latinos are extra engaged this year, that they really hate Donald Trump, and thanks to shift in Latino preferences, Harris County is more Democratic than ever. I’ll have more on that latter link tomorrow, but in the meantime what we do know points in one direction. The question is how far in that direction it points.

Once again with CD29

It’s all about the turnout.

Rep. Gene Green

Rep. Gene Green

On a Gulfgate-area side street lined with union halls, Hillary Clinton’s Houston field office and U.S. Rep. Gene Green’s congressional re-election outfit sit mere doors apart, a coincidental marker of the anticipated link between their races.

Green is squaring off against former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia in the region’s marquee congressional primary, the outcome of which is expected to be swayed by the strength of the Democratic presidential fight in Texas.

The increasingly competitive contest between Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders stands to boost turnout in the 77-percent Latino 29th Congressional District, political observers said, likely shifting the electorate more Hispanic.

“Typically in Democratic primaries, the vote is only about 45 percent Hispanic,” local Democratic strategist Keir Murray said of the 29th District. “However, if you have something, an external factor like a hot presidential race that increases the overall turnout … because of the makeup of the population and the list of registered voters, the percentage of Hispanic voters is going to go up. There’s almost no way it can’t.”

Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

Such a boost in Hispanic voting is expected to help Garcia.

“If this were a nonpresidential cycle, the advantage would clearly be with Green because of the historical turnout in the district,” Texas Southern University political scientist Jay Aiyer said.

However, he said, “The increased turnout is disproportionately low-propensity Latino voters. … And so that benefits Garcia over Green.”

Democratic participation in the 29th District, which curls around eastern Houston, hit a high-water mark in 2008, when nearly 54,000 voters cast a primary ballot, up from 5,000 two years earlier.

Few expect this year’s turnout to be quite as high.

Green’s campaign is anticipating between 35,000 and 50,000 Democratic primary voters, while Garcia’s expects between 12,000 and 54,000, the turnouts in 2012 and 2008, respectively.

We can’t have all this talk about turnout without looking at some numbers, right? I was curious what the relationship was between turnout in CD29 and turnout overall in Harris County. Here’s what it looks like:


Year    CD29    Harris     Pct
==============================
2002  11,891    95,396  12.46%
2004  10,682    78,692  13.57%
2006   5,037    35,447  14.21%
2008  53,855   410,908  13.11%
2010  11,777   101,263  11.63%
2012  12,194    76,486  15.94%
2014   6,808    53,788  12.66%

With the exception of 2002, the “CD29” number represents total ballots cast in CD29 in that year; in 2002, the County Clerk only reported ballots cast for the candidates, so undervotes weren’t included. “Harris” is the total turnout for the Democratic primary in Harris County that year, and “Pct” is the percentage of the total vote that came from CD29. Given that Gene Green was unopposed in each of those years, it’s reasonable to assume that his share of the total vote will creep up a bit. Let’s say it’s 15% of the overall total. If so, then Green’s team is projecting countywide turnout at between 233,000 and 333,000, while Garcia’s people have the much wider spread of 80,000 to 360,000. You can fiddle around with the numbers a bit, but I’d say the range that Team Green is predicting is likely to be on the mark. The early voting returns we’re about to start seeing will tell us much more. What’s your turnout guess?

Can Dems make progress in Collin County?

It sure would be nice if they could.

It’s no secret that Plano’s Prestonwood Baptist Church has long wielded tremendous political influence, often quietly blurring the local lines between church and state.

But in the 2016 cycle, with the Republican Party veering further to the right, the 40,000-member evangelical megachurch is taking its electoral involvement more seriously than ever.

After hosting six GOP presidential hopefuls in October, Prestonwood’s newly formed “Culture Impact Team” staged a forum Monday for local and state candidates in Collin and Denton counties.

“We’re told that if you’re a person of faith, that you cannot get involved in politics, and we totally reject that,” Ron Kelley, director of the Prestonwood Foundation, told a crowd of hundreds who skipped watching the Iowa caucus returns in favor of the church event.

Although federal tax regulations bar the church from making endorsements, Kelley added, Prestonwood’s leaders encourage their flock to support candidates who “share our values.”

“We don’t apologize for that one bit,” he said.

As if to eliminate any possible doubt about the nature of “our values,” Monday’s forum was co-sponsored by Texas Values, a statewide group that specializes in opposing LGBT and reproductive rights.

However, the forum also included some unlikely participants — Democrats. For the first time in recent memory, Democrats have filed to run for each of Collin County’s five seats in the Texas House, all of which are currently held by Republicans, including two Prestonwood members.

Rick Joosten, a precinct chair who led the Collin County party’s candidate recruitment team in 2015, said he’s seen “an unprecedented emergence of Democratic energy in this exciting presidential year.”

Indeed, recent corporate relocations from places like California and an influx of new residents from Dallas have loosened, ever so slightly, the GOP’s hold on Collin County — as evidenced in Plano’s passage of an LGBT-inclusive Equal Rights Ordinance in December 2014, despite vocal opposition from Prestonwood leaders.

Still, given that Wendy Davis captured less than 33 percent of the vote in Collin County, Democratic candidates face a steep climb. But that didn’t stop them from braving a tough audience at the Prestonwood forum. The crowd erupted when local Republican candidates were introduced, but Democrats garnered only a smattering of applause from family and friends.

Let’s acknowledge that recruiting candidates is challenging under any circumstance. Recruiting candidates in races where they will be seriously out-financed and their odds of winning can be most generously described as “remote” is nigh impossible. As such, whatever happens this November, we should salute Rick Joosten and his team for a stellar job. The rapid growth in Collin County (2004 registered voters = 369,412; 2012 registered voters = 458,872) is an opportunity to reach out to voters who maybe aren’t cut from the same old cloth as well as a challenge to make sure they know they do have a choice and it does matter that they show up. Having a full slate of local candidates goes a long way towards that.

And Lord knows, the Collin County delegation has some varmints and miscreants in it. Barring something earth-shaking, this isn’t the cycle where any of them might get bounced, but we can put down some markers for what progress looks like. Here are the results for the last three Presidential elections in each of those five State Rep districts:


Dist   Kerry  Obama08  Obama12
==============================
33     22.9%    30.4%    26.4%
66     31.8%    40.2%    37.4%
67     31.0%    39.6%    37.2%
70     24.0%    32.6%    29.2%
89     26.4%    34.7%    31.7%

The same pattern holds countywide, where the Presidential number was 28.12% in 2004, 36.77% in 2008, and 33.49% in 2012. The two best-performing State Rep districts are about eight points out from their 2012 figures from being competitive, so the target needs to be at least 40% in the county for anyone to start paying attention. Candidate quality and specific issues come into play at some point, and additional ground can be made up with the right combination of the two or lost with the wrong combo. HDs 66 and 67 are unsurprisingly the most diverse of the five, but what’s interesting is that it’s the high percentage of “other” voters, which I read as being Asian, that is driving those numbers. That number is higher than the combined black plus Hispanic total in HD66, and it’s higher than each individually in HD67. Democrats have placed a lot of hope on the increasing number of Hispanic voters for its fortunes around the state, but the rapidly increasing Asian population can make a difference as well. I hope someone in Collin County is thinking about how that may apply to them. I’ll be sure to check back in November and see how it turned out.

Reps. Otto and Marquez join the retirement list

Another committee chair bows out.

Rep. John Otto

After a decade in the Texas House and fresh off his first session as chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, state Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, announced Tuesday that he is not planning to seek re-election.

“I want to thank the voters of House District 18 for their support and encouragement over the years,” Otto said in a statement. “This was not an easy decision, but I never intended for this experience to be a lifelong endeavor. After accomplishing much of what I set out to do when first elected, the time is right for me to step aside.”

[…]

Along with announcing his retirement, Otto also endorsed Liberty County Attorney Wesley Hinch to replace him in the district, which covers Liberty, Walker and San Jacinto counties in southeast Texas.

“Wes Hinch has the values, integrity, and experience needed to serve House District 18,” Otto said. “I am honored to endorse him to be our next state representative.”

Otto was first elected in 2004 and like several other retirees is considered a moderate, which mostly means he wants to get stuff done rather than burn it down. It’s a bit amazing to realize that he defeated an incumbent Democrat, Dan Ellis, in 2004 – Ellis won in 2002 in what was a red but not overwhelmingly so district – John Sharp got more than 45% of the vote for Lite Guv in that 2002 race. By 2012, this was a 71.6% Romney district, so it will not be changing hands. One hopes Otto’s endorsed would-be successor is from a similar mold as he is.

Over in El Paso, a Democratic seat opens up as Rep. Marissa Marquez steps down.

Rep. Marissa Marquez

State Rep. Marisa Márquez will not seek reelection after representing El Paso for four terms in the Texas House.

The Democrat announced her retirement from House District 77 in a statement on her official website, saying she would remain an active figure in state politics.

“I am truly grateful to the many people who have worked with me on the passage of important legislation for our area and to my constituency for their support over the last eight years,” she said.

[…]

First elected in 2008, Márquez was considered somewhat of an ascendant among the outnumbered Democrats in the lower chamber. She was named by House Speaker Joe Straus as vice-chair on the House Committee on County Affairs in her sophomore term in 2011, and currently sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Marquez defeated longtime legislator Rep. Paul Moreno in a typically nasty primary, which made her less than overwhelmingly popular among her peers when she first arrived. She was viewed as a potential Craddick Dem at the time, which didn’t help either. That of course all blew over, and in the last session she made a valiant attempt at marijuana reform. President Obama carried her district 64-34 in 2012, so this is another one that will be decided in the primaries. The El Paso Times has more on Rep. Marquez. Best wishes to her and to Rep. Otto in the next phases of their lives.

Morrison’s challenge

I often said last year that I wanted to get through the 2014 elections before worrying too much about the 2015 ones. I feel the same way this year, and thus don’t plan to spend much time writing about 2016 elections. But some stories are too important not to comment on, and this is one of them.

Richard Morrison

Richard Morrison

Rosenberg Mayor Vincent M. Morales Jr. announced on Jan. 29 that he’s running for Precinct 1 Fort Bend County commissioner.

Incumbent Precinct 1 Commissioner Richard Morrison said he intends to run for re-election in 2016. The Democrat first won election to the position in November 2008.

In announcing his run for commissioner, Morales, in his second term as mayor of Rosenberg, cited his desire to continue his service in a greater capacity.

“My work for Rosenberg is not done; it has only just begun,” said Morales, who will run for county office as a Republican. “By serving as Precinct 1 commissioner, I can continue my focus on economic development and vital infrastructure on a larger scale. I am committed to making certain that our community will be a viable place to live, work and educate our children and grandchildren for years to come, and by serving as Precinct 1 commissioner, I can do just that.”

In his second term in office, Morrison said, “I’ve accomplished a lot.

“I’ve extended, widened and built a lot of roads in Precinct 1. I fought to make sure local contractors and businesses get Fort Bend County construction projects. I’ve done the best I can, along with other members of court, to run a very lean county government, so taxpayers get the most bang for their buck.”

Richard Morrison has long been one of my favorite people in politics. He hit the scene in 2004 when he ran a scrappy, underdog campaign against Tom DeLay in CD22; the interview I did with him in December of 2003 is the first I ever did for this blog. He took on the County Commissioner’s race in 2008, flipping the Republican seat by siding with locals who were unhappy with a proposed toll road in the area and winning large numbers of crossover votes in his home turf, the heavily Republican Greatwood development. He won re-election in 2012 against an opponent who was disavowed by the Fort Bend GOP after evidence surfaced that he had voted twice in an earlier election, once in Texas and once in Virginia.

The challenge is that Fort Bend Commissioners Precinct 1 has a decided Republican tilt. I pieced together precinct information from the Fort Bend election results page, and this is how it looked in the two races Morrison won.

2008 Candidate Votes Pct ========================= Straight R 14,414 Straight D 14,246 McCain 23,902 54.27 Obama 20,137 45.73 Shoemaker 23,059 54.21 Hollan 19,478 45.79 Ordeneaux 21,191 49.12 Morrison 21,948 50.88 2008 Candidate Votes Pct ========================= Straight R 18,843 Straight D 15,124 Romney 26,762 56.60 Obama 20,521 43.40 Mullinix 26,768 57.50 Petry 19,784 42.50 Fleming 22,970 49.26 Morrison 23,661 50.74

The second race in each listing above is a District Court race, which I included as a measure of the non-Presidential dropoff; as you can see, that was greater on the D side and thus was another obstacle for Morrison to overcome. In 2012, the base Republican vote grew by about 3,000 over 2008, while the Dem baseline remained the same. Morrison swung about 2,000 votes in 2008, nearly all coming from six Greatwood precincts, and he swung over 3,000 votes in 2012, outperforming other Dems in just about every box while again dominating his back yard.

The main danger for Morrison is that Morales, a successful politician in his own right, will represent a safe choice for Morrison’s Republican friends in Greatwood and elsewhere to vote for, much as Sarah Davis was for Ellen Cohen’s crossovers in 2010. I’m not sufficiently plugged in to Fort Bend politics to know how good a job Morales did in Rosenberg or how much appeal he’ll have overall, but he only needs to get a few of those wayward Republican Morrison backers to come home in order to win. Morrison, who can win on the strength of Greatwood alone if countywide D turnout is good enough, needs to vigorously defend his home turf while working to boost his party’s numbers elsewhere. It won’t be easy, but it is doable. Whether Battleground Texas is a factor next year or not, this is exactly the kind of small ball that we should be playing. You want a local race to invest in for 2016, this one should be high on your list.

We need to understand why our voters didn’t vote

So now we know that Battleground Texas wasn’t pursuing a base turnout-increase model for the 2014 election, for reasons that have not yet been adequately explored. I’m mad about that, but I don’t want to get bogged down in that. I want to learn from what happened and I want to move forward, in whatever form. I refuse to accept that the way things are now is the way they will always be. It’s just ten years ago that much (mostly virtual) ink was spilled about how hard it is for Democrats to win the Presidency, what with Republicans having such a lock on the Electoral College. Things are a bit different today, and I daresay they will continue to evolve, usually as a result of things most of us (though not all of us) didn’t see coming.

Basically, at a national level we have had two elections in which that “Emerging Democratic Majority” has held sway, and two in which they stayed home. Here in Texas, Democratic turnout was significantly higher in 2008 and 2012 than it was in 2004, but turnout in 2010 and 2014 was basically indistinguishable from 2002. Here’s that chart again from my previous post:

County 2002 GOP 2002 Dem 2010 GOP 2010 Dem 2014 GOP 2014 Dem ===================================================================== Harris 330,801 272,032 423,275 334,098 358,425 299,255 Dallas 218,496 198,499 196,103 209,001 179,014 206,546 Bexar 133,733 124,129 161,443 131,397 156,144 134,876 Tarrant 195,384 125,416 208,976 123,200 213,812 138,944 Travis 93,524 110,026 95,431 127,803 91,372 155,335 County 2002 GOP 2002 Dem 2010 GOP 2010 Dem 2014 GOP 2014 Dem ===================================================================== Harris 17.64% 14.50% 22.05% 17.42% 17.53% 14.64% Dallas 18.08% 16.43% 17.13% 18.25% 14.83% 17.11% Bexar 15.14% 14.05% 17.88% 14.55% 16.27% 14.06% Tarrant 22.42% 14.39% 22.30% 13.15% 21.37% 13.89% Travis 17.18% 20.22% 15.80% 21.16% 14.00% 23.81%

We can argue all we want about why Travis County is “different” and whether or not Battleground Texas had anything to do with it, but the fact remains that Travis is the only county to improve performance over 2002 and 2010. Harris County saw a huge improvement in Democratic turnout in 2010, and then it basically disappeared in 2014. What I want to know – what I hope everyone would want to know – is why this happened.

Look at those numbers. Some 35,000 people that voted Democratic in 2010 did not turn out at all in 2014. Forget the Presidential year/off year conundrum for a moment. What happened to those voters? Why didn’t they vote last year? Maybe it would be a good idea to take a sample of 400 or 500 of those didn’t-show-up voters, and call them and ask them that question. Why didn’t you vote this year? What if anything could we have done differently to have gotten you to vote? I don’t know about you, but I’d sure like to know the answer to those questions.

And why stop there? Nearly half of the people who generally voted Democratic in 2012 didn’t show up in 2014. That’s true in Harris County, and it’s true in the state of Texas as a whole. Maybe instead of cursing our fate we could contact some of those people and ask them why they didn’t vote this year. We probably won’t like a lot of the answers we’d get. Some will be nonsensical, some will be deeply frustrating, some will be of the “shit happens” variety. But at least if we knew what those answers were, maybe we could do better the next time. We might also check on some of those brand-newly registered voters, and as those that voted why they did, and those that didn’t why they didn’t. Wouldn’t that be nice to know?

As I see it, we can accept that our turnout sucks in non-Presidential years, as it has done in the entire history of the United States going all the way back to 2010, or we can try to understand it and maybe do something about it. I don’t care who tries to find out the answers to these questions – this isn’t a scientific poll, it shouldn’t be a big expense; hell, a half dozen or so volunteers could probably make the 500 calls needed to get a decent sample of answers in fairly short order – as long as they share the answers they get. We can try to learn about what happened, or we can just give up and nominate Jim Hogan for Governor in 2018 and save us all a lot of heartache. I know which choice I prefer.

On BGTX, Wendy Davis, and the future

This has been a pretty busy Christmas break, as far as blog-worthy news has gone, so in order to preserve the small illusion that I’m taking a breather and recharging my batteries, I’m just going to give three quick thoughts on this Observer postmortem of the 2014 election and Battleground Texas, which you really should read.

1. I can’t tell you how stunned and disillusioned I am to read that their strategy for 2014 was a swing voter/crossover strategy, and not the base-building one that it sure sounded like they were going to do, and which was screamingly obvious we needed. I mean, even the most cursory review of election data for the past few cycles should have made this clear. The only semi-optimistic thing I can say about this is that I hope it proves, once and for all and beyond any semblance of a doubt, that nothing else matters in Democratic campaigning until we get our base turnout up. We had a huge leap forward from 2004 to 2008, then regressed a bit in 2012, but at least we made progress in Presidential years. Non-Presidential years have been a flat-lined albatross since 2002. I thought BGTX had figured this ridiculously easy insight out and was working on a plan to combat it. I can only hope they’ve figured it out now.

2. Much of the story is about friction between BGTX and the local and state Democratic parties and other organizations. I can’t speak to any of that – I get why the folks that were here first felt steamrolled, and I get why BGTX thought they could do things better – but I will say this: The story notes that in Travis County, there was a formal agreement between BGTX and the locals to work together. Well, if there was one honest success story in terms of performance in Texas in 2014, it was in Travis County. Here’s some data I’d collected for a post that I may or may not ever get around to finishing, about off-year turnout patterns in the five biggest urban counties:

County 2002 GOP 2002 Dem 2010 GOP 2010 Dem 2014 GOP 2014 Dem ===================================================================== Harris 330,801 272,032 423,275 334,098 358,425 299,255 Dallas 218,496 198,499 196,103 209,001 179,014 206,546 Bexar 133,733 124,129 161,443 131,397 156,144 134,876 Tarrant 195,384 125,416 208,976 123,200 213,812 138,944 Travis 93,524 110,026 95,431 127,803 91,372 155,335 County 2002 GOP 2002 Dem 2010 GOP 2010 Dem 2014 GOP 2014 Dem ===================================================================== Harris 17.64% 14.50% 22.05% 17.42% 17.53% 14.64% Dallas 18.08% 16.43% 17.13% 18.25% 14.83% 17.11% Bexar 15.14% 14.05% 17.88% 14.55% 16.27% 14.06% Tarrant 22.42% 14.39% 22.30% 13.15% 21.37% 13.89% Travis 17.18% 20.22% 15.80% 21.16% 14.00% 23.81%

The numbers in question are (for the top chart) the average vote totals for judicial candidates (*) in each year and for each party (I skipped 2006 because it was such an atypical down year for Republicans), and (for the bottom chart) the percentage of registered voters that each of those totals represents. As you can see, the only county with consistent growth, in terms of total numbers and share of registered voters, is Travis County. The Dallas County miracle is largely the result of the bottoming out of the Republican vote there; the Dem vote has grown somewhat, but not that much, and it backslid from 2010. Harris and Bexar are stuck in the mud, while Tarrant is still catching up to 2002. Whatever happened elsewhere in the state and with the Wendy Davis campaign, what happened in Travis County worked. We should learn from that.

(*) – These totals are from contested races only, for which there are a limited supply in Travis and Tarrant. I used statewide and circuit appeals court races in those counties in addition to the rare contested local judicial election; in Harris and Dallas I used district court races, and in Bexar I used district and county court races.

3. If I see any indication that BGTX plans to direct Texas volunteer effort and/or contributions to other states in 2016, I’m going to be very seriously pissed off. That’s not what we were promised, it’s not what anyone signed up for, and it’s not what we deserve. I don’t want to ever have to discuss this again.

As far as the story about Wendy Davis contemplating her political future, which I have not gotten around to reading yet but which Campos has, I see no reason why she can’t run again, whether it’s for SD10 in 2018 (she’d have as good a shot at it as anyone) or statewide again. Remember when we were all calling Rick Perry “Governor 39%”? Everyone had forgotten about that by the time 2010 rolled around. The public has a very short memory. As for Davis, if she has learned the lessons that should have been learned before this year, she might be a much stronger candidate next time out. Bottom line, she was a really good State Senator who won two tough races and served her district very well, and she’s only 51. I see no reason why she can’t have a second act.

Endorsement watch: Ogg for DA

The Chronicle endorses a change in thew Harris County DA’s office.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Houston has changed since the hang ’em high days of Holmes’ tenure. Our region has grown more diverse, our mentality more mature. While some may look back with nostalgia, for many people – minority communities, taxpayer watchdogs, the wrongly convicted – the old days weren’t that good. The Harris County Criminal Justice Center needs a new direction, and Democratic candidate Kim Ogg is the woman to lead the way.

Devon Anderson has done an admirable job as district attorney, appointed to the position after her husband died of cancer less than a year after his election. She has made important progress in the way the office handles mental health treatment and human trafficking. In spite of these improvements, her eyes are still firmly fixed on the past. As Anderson told the Houston Chronicle editorial board, she wants to restore the office to what it was in the 1990s. Those may have been the best days to be a prosecutor. They weren’t the best days for everyone else in the judicial system. The Criminal Justice Center needs someone who will look to the opportunities of our future. We need someone who understands the big picture. We don’t need a chief prosecutor; we need a CEO.

As a candidate for district attorney, Ogg, 54, already seems better prepared to discuss the office’s policies than the incumbent. This challenger understands that her decisions can have an impact far beyond the courtroom, and she plans to rely on empirical data to direct county resources (and taxpayer dollars) to their best and highest use. Instead of wasting time and money on minor offenders, Ogg will refocus on serious crimes. These may seem like obvious policy solutions, but it is hard to move forward when you’re looking backward.

[…]

When she met with the Chronicle editorial board, Ogg said that her job would be to run one of the largest law firms in the country. It is a job of developing strategy for the future and directing funds to support that strategy. It is a job of setting an attitude that is right for our time, the way Holmes set an attitude for his. It is a job for Kim Ogg.

It’s a good, solid recommendation, for good reasons. The Chron had previously endorsed Mike Anderson in 2012 as the obvious choice over the idiot Lloyd Oliver, and they endorsed Pat Lykos in 2008. I’d thought this might be their first nod to a Democratic DA candidate since the pre-Johnny Holmes era, but an archive search reminded me that they did endorse Reggie McKamie, Chuck Rosenthal’s 2004 opponent. Rereading that article, I see that the Chron was calling for a change in direction for the DA’s office ten years ago as well. Maybe this is the year they’ll get it. Here’s my interview with Kim Ogg if you haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet.

In other recent endorsement news, the Chron went with incumbent County Commissioner Jack Cagle in a race where I didn’t realize he had an opponent, and they recommended five more incumbent Civil District Court judges in their second round of Civil Court endorsements. As was the case in round one, they had nice things to say about the Democratic challengers, most notably Barbara Gardner, whose Q&A responses will run next Tuesday. Finally, they tout a Yes vote for Proposition 1, the sole constitutional amendment on the ballot, which will allocate some rainy day funds for road construction. The Chron has done a good job so far getting these done in a year where there’s a full ballot. They have three more weeks before early voting starts to keep getting it done.

Bell op-ed for eliminating the revenue cap

More like this, please.

Chris Bell

A decade ago, Houston voters restricted city property tax revenues to the combined rates of inflation and population increases. Like most arbitrary rules that politicians apply to math, this revenue cap sounds like a great idea until it meets the realities of a growing and expanding city.

During the Great Recession, property values remained largely constant while the global economy struggled and revenue to the city fell. City government tightened its belt, cutting spending and reducing its number of employees. Critical investments in our infrastructure, public safety and human services were deferred because we simply couldn’t afford them.

Today, with our strong economy and increased property values, we should be able to make those key investments we were unable to make. The only problem is that the revenue cap prevents us from doing so. We remain in the difficult position of either cutting services, laying people off, or having to seek voter approval to raise the tax rate – because our property tax revenues are capped.

Now, Houston budget writers are trying to recover from those bad choices. The revenue cap has created an artificial crisis for a growing population with rising real estate values. Instead of considering all the choices, Houston faces more hard, if false, choices in the near future.

Managing Houston’s ballooning debt obligations is going to squeeze services that will face an increasing demand. The better Houston does, the worse Houston will become. The revenue cap, as currently written, punishes Houston for its success, antithetical to our city’s core values.

See here for the background. You know I agree with what Bell says, so I’ll keep this brief. As a matter of philosophy, I’m opposed to stupid budget tricks, the vast majority of which offer little more than illusion, distortion, and perverse incentives. I hope to see more people join Bell’s call to repeal this bad law. I just wish more people had spoken against it back in 2004 as well.

Why revenue caps suck

I’ve been expecting this.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Despite a booming economy that is the envy of much of the nation, the city of Houston could face hundreds of layoffs and cuts in service next year as it runs headlong into a revenue cap put in place by voters a decade ago.

Mayor Annise Parker sounded the alarm Thursday as she rolled out her plan for a $5.2 billion overall budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Driven by soaring pension costs, contractual raises for employees and the increased cost of servicing the city’s debt, the proposed budget envisions an 8 percent increase in the general fund, which is fed chiefly by property and sales taxes and funds most basic city services.

The spending plan would expand single-stream recycling to all households, add $10 million for pothole and street repairs in addition to what will be spent through the ReBuild Houston program, and provide a $2.6 million increase for the city’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care.

The real challenges, Parker and others said, await next year, with the fiscal year 2016 budget and beyond.

The hot economy is, in some sense, to blame, as sprinting increases in property values are expected to run the city smack into the decade-old, voter-approved cap on revenues that would force a cut in the property tax rate, carving millions of dollars from the budget.

Combined with weaknesses that have lurked on the balance sheet for years, primarily soaring pension payments and a spike in servicing the city’s debt over the next four years, Parker said conversations with the council and public on how to address the shortfall must begin now.

“I’ll be very clear: If the cap stays in and there are no other sources of revenue, there will be layoffs,” Parker said. “The Houston economy is going to continue to grow. We have held the line on taxes, and yet, there’s a forced tax rollback just when there’s more and more demand for services. The options are raise revenue, cut spending, both, or go to the voters in 2015 and amend the charter.”

The cap holds city property tax revenues to the combined rates of inflation and population increases.

If voters reject any changes – such as raising the cap for public safety spending, as former Mayor Bill White did – Parker said cuts could be nearly as drastic as when 776 workers were let go during the recession in 2010.

You can see the expenditure summary here and the Mayor’s press release here. I’ve been fearing this problem for some time now. Back in 2010, when Mayor Parker was grappling with the giant budget shortfall that resulted from the depressed economy, her team put out a graphic “balance the budget” tool that allowed you to decide how to apportion the shortfall. It did have an option built in to raise revenues, but as the tool was constructed you could only fill in part of the hole by raising taxes or whatever. The reason for that is the revenue cap, passed in 2004, that limits annual increases in property tax revenue and water and sewer rates to the combined increases of population and inflation for Houston or 4.5 percent, whichever is lower. Are you experiencing bad times and need more revenue to avoid cutting staff and programs? Too bad. Are you in good times and would like to invest in infrastructure or pay down long-term debt with the bundles of extra property tax revenue rolling in? Too bad, you have to cut the tax rate. If that forces cuts elsewhere because costs increased faster than the artificial limit you imposed on revenue growth, too bad. Is this a great idea or what?

City Finance Department Director Kelly Dowe said he will order departments to seek efficiencies, but that will not bridge the gap; nor will fee increases. The city cannot fix its pensions or the revenue cap by itself, he added, leaving only cuts to services or extending debt payments to a future’s mayor’s term, which Parker won’t do.

Just such a debt bubble, created by past refinancings, is coming due over the next four years. General obligation debt payments will jump from $297 million this fiscal year to $355 million by fiscal 2018 before falling.

White’s 2006 maneuver to increase the original 2004 revenue cap by $90 million for public safety spending simply “delayed the day of reckoning,” Dowe said.

“Here we are, public safety costs have gone up $90 million over the 2006 to 2014 time frame,” he said. “It’s going to be up to everyone to decide whether what seemed like a good idea in 2004 is really a good idea in 2014.”

Yeah, well, some of us thought this was a lousy idea back in 2004. The projection of what may be to come in 2015 was entirely predictable in 2004. We’re likely to get sidetracked from here into another squabble over the firefighters’ pension fund. I don’t have the patience to adjudicate this again, I just care about dealing with that stupid revenue cap. I’m glad to see Mayor Parker bring it up, and I hope she does turn her attention to it one we pass the NDO and get past the Uber/Lyft battle.

Fjetland files for Senate

Texas Democrats will have a contested primary for the right to run against Sen. John Cornyn next year.

Mike Fjetland

Michael Fjetland, a previous GOP House candidate, has filed as a Democrat to run for the Senate seat held by Texas Sen. John Cornyn.

Fjetland, 63, of Houston, said he is not satisfied with the work the state’s two senators have been doing and criticizes both Cornyn and Ted Cruz for “reckless actions.”

“Mr. Cornyn has been a career politician,” Fjetland said. “He voted for (President George W.) Bush tax cuts and two unpaid wars that helped generate the worst recession since the Great Depression.”

On his home page, Fjetland calls himself the “Anti-Cruz” and criticizes the young senator for leading the government into shutdown in a snit over people getting federal health care.

“Mr. Cruz and Cornyn have government-paid insurance,” Fjetland said. “They are basically opposed to ordinary Americans having the same thing.”

Between 2000 and 2006, Fjetland ran in GOP primaries against then-Texas Rep. Tom DeLay, but he later decided to change parties.

“I switched from the Republican Party to the Democrats because the GOP has become too extreme, especially since 2010 and the rise of the tea party,” Fjetland said. “It is even more extreme than it was a decade ago when I ran against Tom DeLay.”

Fjetland said the tea party and Republicans like DeLay drove him away from the Republican Party and led him to vote for President Barack Obama in 2008.

“I cannot be in the same party with people like Steve Stockman and Michelle Bachmann,” Fjetland declared. “The Democratic Party looks like America – very diverse, just like the good people I have met around the world.”

Fjetland’s webpage is here and his Facebook page is here. I noted his candidacy in passing on Monday. He joins Maxey Scherr in the race, though Scherr has not officially filed yet. I know Mike Fjetland, I interviewed him in 2004 when he ran as an independent against Tom DeLay. He’s a good guy and his heart is in the right place, but I don’t know how much traction he’ll get in the primary. This is a longshot race for either candidate, we’ll see if one of them can stand out as the better alternative.