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Election 2005

The case against expediting the CD27 special election

Erica Greider does not approve of Greg Abbott’s actions in CD27.

Blake Farenthold

All things considered, then, I find it hard to believe that Abbott’s decision was motivated by his altruistic concern for the Texans who live in this district.

What disturbs me, however, is that under the laws of Texas, the 27th Congressional District probably shouldn’t have a representative in Congress at all until January, when the candidate who wins the general election will be sworn into office.

I’ve always believed that the laws of Texas should not be dismissed as a technicality, or taken lightly, or suspended by the governor of Texas, whoever that might be.

Abbott has always cast himself as someone who believes in the rule of law. But in calling for this emergency special election, he has acted in a way that might — by his own account — exceed his constitutional authority.

“May I utilize my authority under section 418.016 of the Government Code to suspend relevant state election laws and order an emergency special election?” he asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a letter sent on Friday, April 19.

In Paxton’s opinion, Abbott may suspend state election laws. And in the opinion he issued on Monday, in response to the governor’s letter, he concluded that a court would likely agree.

Perhaps. But we don’t know that. And neither does Abbott, who responded to Paxton’s opinion by acting unilaterally on Tuesday.

See here for the background. I take her point, and Lord knows the rule of law could use all the support it can get these days. I just believe that the default preference in all cases should be to get these elections scheduled as soon as reasonably possible. Having this one in November is essentially pointless. Have it now, so that even a temporary representative will be able to, you know, represent the people of CD27. Remember when Rick Perry chose to keep a vacancy in HD143 through two special sessions he called? Greg Abbott and his lapdog Ken Paxton may have pushed the envelope here, but the urge to let the voters fill an empty seat is one I’ll defend.

Early voting set for HISD and HCC runoffs

Here’s the schedule and locations. Note that while the early vote period covers a week, from Wednesday, November 29 through Tuesday, December 5, there are only six days to vote, as there is no voting on Sunday the 3rd. Runoff Day itself is Saturday, December 9, which may be a bit complicated in my neck of the woods as that is also the date for Lights in the Heights. Won’t be the first time I’ll spend the better part of that evening refreshing the harrisvotes.com webpage on my laptop.

Anyway. For the most part, the regular early voting locations in HISD I and III and HCC 9 will be open, along with the Harris County Administration Building downtown and the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Gray, because that’s where Heights people like to vote. If you’re not in one of those districts you’re off the hook thanks to there being no city races on the ballot. For the same reason, we can expect turnout to be pretty light. I can throw one number at you: In the 2005 runoff for HISD I, when there was an At Large Council race but not a Mayor’s race, Natasha Kamrani defeated Anne Flores Santiago with 3,026 total votes being cast. I’d draw the over/under line at that level, with fewer votes in HISD III and maybe about the same in HCC 9. Make your plan to vote if you’re in one of these districts, the EV period will begin and end before you know it.

2017 EV daily report: Just remember, the reports we get are all of Harris County

Here are today’s numbers, and 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   11,953   7,513   19,466   19,581
2015   36,322  19,789   56,111   42,520
2011   10,818   3,823   14,641   13,697
2007    8,080   3,126   11,206   12,775

So 2011 appears to be the closest comparison so far. That might imply a much higher level of turnout than what I’ve been suggesting, but I’m not prepared to believe that yet. The main reason for this is that less than 40% of the vote was cast early in 2011, and I seriously doubt that’s what we’re going to get this time. Odd year elections skew more towards Election Day and less towards early voting than even year elections – in 2015, just over half of the vote was cast early – but I think this year we will see a higher percentage of the vote cast early. The message from the County Clerk is to take advantage of the early voting period because a number of polling sites are unavailable thanks to Harvey, and I think people will heed that. We’ll take our guesses about that later in the EV period, but for now just keep that in mind. 2017 may be a bit ahead of 2011 in early voting, but I suspect that’s because more people will be voting early than usual.

It should also be noted that these reports encompass all of Harris County, so some of those numbers above are not for Houston or HISD. I’ve gone through this exercise before, but let’s review the percentage of county turnout that was in Houston in these elections:


Year   Harris  Houston   Share
==============================
2015  421,460  268,872   63.8%
2013  260,437  174,620   67.0%
2011  164,971  121,468   73.6%
2009  257,312  178,777   69.5%
2007  193,945  123,413   63.6%
2005  332,154  189,046   56.9%
2003  374,459  298,110   79.6%

“Share” is just simply the percentage of the county vote that came from Houston. There’s a big span here, but that comes with an asterisk, because the conditions were not the same each year. For example, in 2015 and 2007, Harris County had bond elections in addition to the state constitutional amendments. In 2005, the notorious state anti-gay marriage referendum was on the ballot, which coupled with a non-competitive Mayoral election meant a much larger county share. Finally, in 2003 there was the Metro referendum, which covered all of the county. There were also no state constitutional amendments on the ballot, as those had been voted on in September, to enhance the odds of the tort “reform” amendment passing.

Bottom line, with boring constitutional amendments on the ballot, I’d suggest that county/city ratio will be like the other years, which is to say between 67 and 73 percent. Let’s say 70%, just to split the difference. That’s another thing we’ll have to take into account when we do our projections later on.

An unsatisfying attempt at projecting turnout

So as we all know, this in an unprecedented election, as there are no city races on the ballot. This has everyone wondering about turnout, because the usual drivers of turnout are a Mayor’s race and/or a big referendum, and we have neither of those. What can we guess from past turnout?

There are two components of interest here, overall turnout in the city and in the districts that have contested races. Those races of interest are in HISD, so my first thought was to look at some past elections to see what we could learn from the ratio of voters in each district to total voters in Houston. If that’s reasonably consistent, then we can make a projection for the districts on the ballot based on what we think the top level is.

HISD Trustee terms are four years, so our points of comparison are the years in which the same districts are up. Here are the citywide numbers from the Harris County Clerk:


Year      Turnout
=================
2001      284,748
2005      189,046
2009      178,777
2013      174,620

Yes, there are city voters outside Harris County, but none of them intersect with HISD, so we can safely ignore them. Now here are the totals for the five HISD districts that are normally on the ballot in these cycles:


Dist   2001 Share    2005 Share    2009 Share    2013 Share
===========================================================
I    12,515  4.40  10,159  5.37   9,823  5.49  10,521  6.03
V    21,761  7.64                14,550  8.14
VI
VII                                            12,394  7.10
IX   17,524  6.15  12,372  6.54  12,299  6.88  11,245  6.44

And right here you can see why I called this an “unsatisfying” attempt at this projection. The County Clerk only shows the results for contested school board races, and Districts V, VI, and VII haven’t had a lot of those in recent years. We do have good data in I and IX, and those numbers are interesting. District IX is very consistent. If you know what overall city turnout was, you can make a pretty good guess as to turnout in IX. District I, on the other hand, shows a steady upward trend. I’d say that’s the result of changes in the district, which encompasses a good chunk of the Heights and surrounding areas that have been gentrifying. As such, I’d consider the 2013 numbers to be a floor for this year.

That leaves us with the question of what citywide turnout might be. We do have a model for guessing turnout in elections with no Mayor’s race. Since 2005, there have been six At Large City Council runoffs with no corresponding Mayor’s runoff, and in 2007 there was a special May election with June runoff for At Large #3. Here are the vote totals in those races:


2005 At Large #2 runoff = 35,922
2007 At Large #3 May    = 33,853
2007 At Large #3 June   = 24,746
2007 At Large #5 runoff = 23,548
2011 At Large #2 runoff = 51,239
2011 At Large #5 runoff = 55,511
2013 At Large #2 runoff = 32,930
2013 At Large #3 runoff = 33,824

Those numbers are pretty consistent with my earlier finding that there are about 36,000 people who voted in every city election from 2003 to 2013. There won’t be a Mayor’s race this year, but the school board candidates are out there campaigning, and I expect they’ll draw a few people to the polls who aren’t in that group. Similarly, there will be a campaign for the bond issues on the ballot, and that should nudge things up a bit as well. I think a reasonable, perhaps slightly optimistic but not outrageous, estimate is about 50,000 votes total. If that’s the case, then my projections for the school board races are as follows:


District I   = 3,000 (6% of the total)
District V   = 4,000 (8%)
District VII = 3,500 (7%)
District IX  = 3,250 (6.5%)

You can adjust up or down based on your opinion of the 50K overall estimate. If these numbers represent the over/under line, I’d be inclined to put a few bucks on the over in each, just because there will be actual campaign activity in them and there won’t be elsewhere. I don’t think that will be a big difference-maker, but it ought to mean a little something. All of this is about as scientific as a SurveyMonkey poll, but it’s a starting point. I’ll be sure to follow up after the election, because we may want to do this again in four years’ time, when the next Mayor-free election could be.

Precinct analysis: Old reliables, newcomers, and everyone else

I have three more views of the 2015 electorate, now that I have a copy of the voter roster. With that, and with the past rosters that I have, I can try to paint a more detailed picture of who voted in this election, and perhaps make some comparisons to past elections. Today we’re going to look at voting history. How many voters this year were new, how many had voted in one or more recent elections, and how do those numbers compare to previous years?


Year    All 3   1and2   1and3   2and3   Just1   Just2   Just3    None
=====================================================================
2015   59,639  13,150  26,170   8,714  33,993   6,566  17,964 101,603
2013   46,582  22,044   4,721  13,148  12,239  20,690   6,046  48,662
2011   44,744   9,706  15,360   4,302  15,559   2,830   5,394  19,927
2009   55,117   5,818  22,122  25,227  10,907   7,684  20,218  38,755

vote-button

Let me translate what those column headers mean. “All 3” is the number of people in that election who had voted in each of the three prior city elections. For the year 2015, that means the number of people who had voted in 2013, 2011, and 2009. For 2013, that means the number of people who had voted in 2011, 2009, and 2007. I trust you get the idea for 2011 and 2009; I have rosters going back to 2003, so that’s as far back as I can do this exercise. These are your old reliable voters – year in and year out, they show up and vote.

The next six columns specify one or more of these prior elections. A 1 refers to the election immediately before, a 2 refers to the election before that – i.e., two elections before – and a 3 is for three elections before. Again, for 2015, those elections are 2013 (“1”), 2011 (“2”), and 2009 (“3”). Thus, the column “1and2” means all the people who voted in 2013 and 2011, but not 2009. “1and3” means means all the people who voted in 2013 and 2009, but not 2011. “2and3” means all the people who voted in 2011 and 2009, but not 2013. Along similar lines, “Just1” means all the people who voted in 2013 but not 2011 or 2009, and so forth. Substitute other years as appropriate, and you’ve got it. Lastly, “None” means the people who had voted in none of the past three elections. These are your new voters.

I presume I don’t have to tell you that 2015 was indeed an outlier in this regard. We knew going in that years with high profile referenda have higher turnout than other years, and that’s what happened here. In addition, you have to remember that “high turnout” is a relative thing. Turnout for the Harris County portion of the city of Houston was 268,872, which is more than any odd-year election since 2003, but pales in comparison to the turnouts of recent even years in which city props have been on the ballot. In 2010, for example, 389,428 voters came out in the Harris County part of Houston – 40.9% turnout – with 343,481 casting a vote on the red light camera referendum. In 2012, for the four bond items and two charter amendments up for a vote, there were 565,741 voters, with as many as 435,836 ballots cast. Point being, there are a lot of even-year city voters. Some number of them decided to vote this year as well. I’m not in a position to quantify it further than that, but at a guess based on the other years, I’d say 30 to 50 thousand of those 101,603 were true newbies, while the rest had some prior voting history in Harris County. As we’ve discussed before, new people move in all the time, and some other people become newly eligible due to turning 18 or becoming citizens. If and when I get more details on that, I’ll be sure to share them.

Here’s another way of looking at the data: The proportion of each class of voter for these elections.


Year   All 3   2 of 3   1 of 3   0 of 3
=======================================
2015   22.3%    17.9%    21.9%    37.9%
2013   26.8%    22.9%    22.4%    27.9%
2011   38.0%    24.9%    20.2%    16.9%
2009   29.7%    28.6%    20.9%    20.9%

“2 of 3” and “1 of 3″ refers to voters who had voted in two of the previous three elections, and one of the previous three elections, respectively. Again, the share of new voters this year was clearly higher than in other years. It’s no surprise that the share of new voters was so low in 2011. It was a low turnout year – just over 117,000 voters in total – so you’d expect that a large majority of them would be the regulars. By the same token, the old reliable share this year was lower than usual, for the same reason. I’m fascinated by how stable the 1 of 3” share was across the four races. As we saw in the table at the top, the one prior election in question can be any of the three predecessors. It’s not just folks who’d been new the year before. That number is directly affected by the turnout levels of the election in question and the one before it.

So that’s our first look at this data. I don’t have any broad conclusions to draw here, I just find this stuff amazing. Who would have guessed that over 2,800 people who voted in the low-turnout 2011 election had also voted in the low-turnout 2007 election, but not the higher-turnout 2009 or 2005 elections? Well, now you know. I’ll have more tomorrow.

Day 12 EV 2015 totals: Final turnout projections

The last day was another big one:


Year    Early    Mail    Total   Mailed
=======================================
2015  164,104  29,859  193,963   43,280
2013   87,944  21,426  109,370   30,572

The running 2015 totals are here, the full 2013 totals are here, and for completeness the full 2009 totals are here. Before I go on, let me note that the numbers noted in the Chron story I blogged about on Friday were completely bogus. I have no idea where Mike Morris came up with them. Here’s a more accurate rendition, which please note reflects Harris County only:


Year     Early    E-Day    Total   Early%
=========================================
2003    83,225  214,885  298,110    27.9%
2005    49,889  139,157  189,046    26.4%
2007    36,707   86,703  123,410    29.7%
2009    62,428  116,349  178,777    34.9%
2011    46,446   75,022  121,468    38.2%
2013    80,437   94,183  174,620    46.1%

2010   215,884  173,194  329,428    55.4%
2012   364,272  212,277  576,549    63.2%

I threw in 2005 and 2007 so we could see the trend. Morris’ overall totals were correct, but the way he apportioned mail, early in person, and Election Day subtotals was off the rails for some reason. I also included the two even years, both of which featured city of Houston ballot propositions, as a further point of comparison and to emphasize that there really is a lot of room for behavior shifting. My guess is that about 60% of all ballots have been cast as of now. Assuming about 140,000 of the early votes from Harris and elsewhere are Houston voters, that suggests a final city turnout of about 233,000. That’s in line with what the paid professionals are saying.

EarlyVoting

Political scientists projected between 220,000 and 250,000 city voters will head to the polls by election night’s close, up from more than 178,000 in 2009, the last time there was an open-seat mayor’s race.

Friday marked the close of two weeks of early voting in Harris County.

Early turnout was particularly strong in African American and conservative areas, political scientists said, a boon to Houston mayoral candidates Sylvester Turner and Bill King.

“I think Sylvester could get close to 30 percent of the vote,” Rice University political scientist Bob Stein said, noting that turnout by district so far “clearly advantages somebody like Bill King” for the second spot in a likely December runoff.

If those voting patterns continue through Election Day, the city’s equal rights ordinance, dubbed HERO, also is expected to face a tough road to passage.

“This may spell doom or defeat for the HERO ordinance,” TSU political scientist Michael Adams said, noting that turnout has been comparatively low among traditionally progressive inner-loop Anglo voters.

Citing a TSU analysis, Adams said about 53 percent of early city voters through Thursday were white, 28.5 percent were African American, 11.5 percent were Hispanic and 4 percent were Asian.

He also estimated that approximately 56 percent were Democrats, while 44 percent were Republicans.

As of September, more than two million Harris County residents were eligible to vote on Nov. 3, with more than 978,000 of them residing in Houston, according to the Harris County Clerk’s office.

The share of votes cast early or by mail in recent mayoral races has increased steadily, from 28 percent in 2003, to 46 percent in 2013.

These figures do not include the handful of city precincts outside of Harris County.

Though some have speculated that this year’s spike in early voting could portend low turnout on Election Day, Stein said he expects about half of those who cast a ballot will head to the polls on Tuesday.

I think it’s going to be a bit less than half, but we’ll see. I’ll spare you another discussion of the prospects for HERO, I’ll just note that the world is watching, so it would be nice for us to not look bad. I’ll also note again the overwhelming support for HERO from the business community, which 1) suggests that perhaps Republican voter support for HERO is being underestimated, and 2) suggests again that business leaders who have been supporting politicians like Dan Patrick and others who oppose so many of their interests really ought to rethink that. As for the effect on the Mayor’s race, put me donw for being slightly skeptical that robust Republican turnout necessarily benefits Bill King. Republicans are far from unanimous in their preference, and I’m not convinced that King has that much name recognition, especially with the less-frequent city voters. I’m not saying he won’t do well, just that it’s hardly a guarantee. Along these same lines, the effect of higher than usual turnout on the other citywide races, for Controller and At Large Council seats, is very much an open question. What do voters do when they don’t know the candidates, as will often be the case in these races, since it costs a lot of money to really get your name out there? I suspect that more than the usual number will skip these races – undervotes in the 30% range or higher, perhaps – and some will pick a name that sounds familiar to them. What effect that will have is anyone’s guess, but if there’s a goofy result or two, don’t be shocked.

A broader overview of the Mayor’s race

The TL;dr version of this is basically “meh, not much happening”.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

With a bevy of candidates and midyear fundraising that collectively topped $7 million, Houston’s 2015 mayoral race has been poised to be a blockbuster.

Yet, just five weeks before the start of early voting, the race has remained relatively stagnant.

For the most part, the candidates still are spending little, agreeing often and floating only modestly different visions for the city’s future.

“This election has unfolded so far to be an election of single-interest forum after single-interest forum,” said local political observer Darrin Hall, who previously worked for mayors Annise Parker and Bill White. “There’s not a big picture – four major points that any candidate is exposing – like in years past.”

Put another way, the race to succeed term-limited Parker, essentially, is a popularity contest that at least five candidates still have a shot at winning, Democratic political consultant Keir Murray said.

It goes on, and while it won’t tell you much you didn’t already know if you’ve been following the race, it’s a good overview and I broadly agree with it. I am a little surprised that with all the money in the race there hasn’t been more TV advertising. If there’s one thing we should have learned from the last couple of municipal elections in this town, it’s that nobody should overestimate their name ID. Outside of Adrian Garcia, none of the candidates should be too comfortable in the percentage of voters who have heard of them. I get the argument that they;re keeping their powder dry until a runoff, but the harsh fact is that only two people are going to need it for the runoff, and if as everyone seems to think one of them will be Sylvester Turner, then I’m not sure what the purpose of waiting is.

Beyond that, the big x factor is what effect HERO will have on turnout. I feel confident saying turnout will be up from 2009, but I have no idea by how much, nor do I have any idea how many HERO-motivated voters will bother to cast ballots in the actual races. The number of HERO-only voters could be quite large. Consider that in 2005, the year of the anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment, turnout in Houston was an amazing 332,154 voters, or well over 30%, but only 181,841 people cast votes in the Mayor’s race. To be fair, that year’s Mayoral election was a king-size snoozer, as Bill White cruised to re-election with over 90% of the vote, but still. Over 40% of all people who turned out to vote that year couldn’t be bothered to cast a vote for Mayor. I seriously doubt that will be the case this year, but I do believe that while more people than usual will undervote, that will still leave a lot of people casting ballots. Just compare 2005 to 2007 to see what things might have been like in the absence of a high-profile ballot item. The bottom line is that some number of people will show up specifically to vote on HERO, and some number of them will then decide that as long as they’re there, they may as well vote in those other races, too. What effect that will have on the outcomes is anyone’s guess, and the sort of thing that drives campaign managers to guzzle Pepto-Bismol.

Who are the city voters?

vote-button

Everybody knows that city of Houston elections are fairly low-turnout affairs. The general perception – and it’s one that I’ve echoed as well – is that the elections are dominated by the same voters, year after year.

What I haven’t seen are the numbers to back up those assertions. With all that’s on the line in this year’s election, I thought this might be a good time to try and figure some of this stuff out. So I got the election files from the Harris County Clerk for all of the odd-numbered years going back to 2003, and played around with them to see what I could learn.

Now, we know that the bulk of Houston voters are in Harris County, but not all of them. There are a couple of thousand voters in Fort Bend County, and a couple of dozen voters in Montgomery County. I didn’t try to get the data for these voters in these elections. They represent maybe two percent of the total each year, and I just didn’t feel like the effort to include that data was worthwhile. So when you see me tossing around total turnout numbers in this post, bear in mind I’m talking about Harris County turnout for the city of Houston.

The first question I wanted to answer was “Who are the truly hardcore voters in Houston, the ones who come out every election without fail?” My sense going into this was that there might be fewer of these people than one might think. The answer is that 36,036 City of Houston voters have participated in every November election since 2003. That’s 20.7% of the 174,132 Harris County voters who cast a ballot in Houston in 2013.

I don’t know what kind of number I was expecting, but I wasn’t terribly surprised by this. Houston is a dynamic city. People move in and move out, sometimes to or from the suburbs in Harris County and elsewhere, sometimes to and from other cities or states, or countries. We have a significant population of children, and some of them turn 18 every year. We also have an electorate that skews old – more on that in the next post from this series – and every year some of them age out, which is the poli-sci way of saying “die”. A lot of this can and will happen over a ten-year span. The total number of voters in a given year may reliably be in a narrow band, but the names do indeed change over time.

What about the short term? The gold standard for voters to contact for candidate outreach is those who have voted in at least two of the last three elections. How many potential voters does that rule out, given what we now know about the amount of turnover in the electorate? Consider the 2013 election, which had a near identical voter total as the open 2009 election. 54,708 of 174,132 voters in 2013 had not voted in either of the 2011 or 2009 elections. That’s 31.4% of the total. The two-out-of-threes are a clear majority, but that’s still an awful lot of votes to leave on the table if you don’t try to find them.

This isn’t new. In 2009, 63,164 voters had not participated in 2003 – this is 36.1% of the 175,031 total voters. 58,973 2009 voters – 33.7% – had not voted in either 2005 or 2007. I feel pretty confident saying that when we look back on the 2015 election, we will find that something like 35% of the electorate was “new”. Given the past pattern of turnout being higher in years with high-profile referenda on the ballot, that’s likely to be an understatement.

Who are these “new” voters? As I’ve said before, some of them are new to Houston, and some of them are newly registered. Some of them have been here all along, and just hadn’t had a reason to come out to the ballot box before. How many of each there are, I couldn’t say. I can say that a candidate or campaign that isn’t trying to find and engage these voters is missing a significant opportunity. Especially in a year like this, that’s not a good idea.

SCOTUS rules for marriage equality

Boom.

RedEquality

Handing gay rights advocates a monumental victory, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday ruled that marriages between couples of the same sex are constitutional, a decision that overrides Texas’ long-standing ban on gay marriage.

In a 5-4 ruling, the high court found that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry and that states must license a marriage between two people of the same sex.

“Today’s victory will bring joy to tens of thousands of Texans and their families who have the same dreams for marriage as any others,” Chuck Smith, executive director for the gay rights group Equality Texas, said in a statement. “We hope state officials move swiftly to implement the Constitution’s command in the remaining 13 states with marriage discrimination.”

Though the Supreme Court ruled specifically on four gay marriage cases out of a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court, its decision legalized gay marriage nationwide, dismaying Texas’ Republican leaders.

The ruling is here. I for one am thoroughly enjoying the bitter, bitter tears of those dismayed Republican leaders; you can see those and some other reactions here. Seriously, every time Ted Cruz says something hilariously apocalyptic, an angel gets its wings.

Texas’ ban, which had been on the books for a decade, defined marriage in the state Constitution as “solely the union of one man and one woman.” A legal challenge to Texas’ constitutional ban was making its way through the courts.

Two same-sex couples had sued Texas over its gay marriage ban, arguing that it did not grant them equal protection as intended by the 14th Amendment. Attorneys for the state of Texas defended the ban, saying it met equal protection laws and that the courts should not undermine a state’s sovereignty to impose such restrictions.

The Texas case was among dozens of challenges to state same-sex marriage bans that cropped up and barreled through the judicial system after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.

The Texas case was among the last to be heard at the appellate level, and it was left pending before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals at the time the Supreme Court ruled on the issue.

I wonder again, will the Fifth Circuit ever issue a ruling on that appeal, or will they simply point to SCOTUS and say “never mind”? What is the legal precedent for this? The good news is that Judge Orlando Garcia, who issued the original ruling knocking down Texas’ anti-gay marriage law, has officially lifted the stay on his ruling. There’s no legal force holding anyone back, just the obnoxiousness of some small-minded officials here.

June 26 was already a historic day for gay rights activists. On that same day in 2003, the Supreme Court struck down Texas’ sodomy ban, invalidating it and similar laws across the country. A decade later on the same day, the high court struck down key portions of the Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits if they lived in states that allow same-sex marriage.

On Friday, Mark Phariss, a plaintiff in the Texas case, expressed joy at the Supreme Court ruling. “After almost 18 years together, we can soon exchange vows, place rings on each other’s finger, look each other in the eye and say, ‘I do,'” Phariss said in a statement, “all at a wedding surrounded by family and friends.”

Yes, I had thought this would wait till Monday, since there are several other decisions yet to be released, and I fell for the argument that this decision would be released last. Apparently, June 26 really is a magical day. I couldn’t be happier about it.

Look, we know that the legal wrangling is far from over, and the reactions from those bitterly crying Republican officials confirms that they are not about to give up just yet. I nearly got whiplash following the story of whether or not Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart would issue same-sex marriage licenses, and he was far from the only one dragging his feet. I’ll write up what I can for the next post. This one is all about the big accomplishment. It’s a huge step forward, one many people can’t believe they lived to see. I can hardly believe it was less than ten years ago when Texas voted to add that hateful anti-gay-marriage amendment to its constitution. I sure didn’t believe this day would happen so quickly, if a decade can be considered “quick”. But here we are, and while there will be more obstacles going forward, there’s no going back. So celebrate, rejoice, get married if that’s been on your do list, and forget the haters for a day or two. They’ll be with us always, but this weekend will only happen once. Mazel tov and God bless, y’all.

It always was about animus towards gays

TPM reviews the history of anti-gay marriage laws and constitutional amendments now that they’re on the verge of being thrown out. Opponents of marriage equality have been claiming that these laws were not enacted with any animus intended towards same-sex couples, but the arguments made at the time these laws were being debated clearly says otherwise.

RedEquality

The leading opponents of same-sex marriage have been attempting to re-write recent American history, where decades of sneering public attacks on gays and lesbians, condemnations of their “lifestyle,” and blaming them for a decline of America’s moral virtue are quietly forgotten.

Their argument, made in front of the Supreme Court, no less, is that gay marriage bans are not motivated by prejudice toward gays and lesbians, but by a more noble if newfound purpose. In the days to come, the justices will reveal whether they subscribe to this new version of history in a decision that could decide whether gay couples have the right to marry nationwide.

Sweeping cultural change coupled with past decisions by the Supreme Court have limited the options the states who continue to ban same-sex marriage have to defend those prohibitions. If gay couples are kept from marrying because of state-sanctioned “animus” — an intent to deny certain people their rights — there is little escaping a constitutional violation. As a result, the defenders of gay marriage bans had to come up with a new argument to justify the bans.

“[T]he State’s whole point is that we’re not drawing distinctions based on the identity, the orientation, or the choices of anyone,” John J. Bursch, the solicitor general of Michigan, said during the oral arguments in the case, Obergefell v. Hodges. “The State has drawn lines, the way the government has always done, to solve a specific problem. It’s not meant to exclude.”

The “problem” that bans on same-sex marriage were solving, in Bursh’s view, was keeping biological parents attached to their children. How allowing gay couples to marry threatened that attachment puzzled even some of the justices — Justice Elena Kagan called the reasoning “inexplicable.” But even more bewildering, to longtime observers of the issue, is how divorced such logic was from the original motivation for the bans.

“The states’ arguments don’t pass the straight face test, no pun intended,” Judith Schaeffer, vice president of Constitutional Accountability Center, a D.C.-based legal organization, said in an interview with TPM. “These are ridiculous arguments that are being made to cover up the fact that these discriminatory laws are motivated by a desire to keep gay people out of this important legal relationship.”

To say same-sex marriage bans were never meant to “exclude” anyone is to ignore years of anti-gay sentiments — vitriolic posters and inflammatory commentary — not to mention the comments made by elected officials when defending their opposition to same-sex marriage and enacting gay marriage bans.

Texas passed its constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage ten years ago, two years and one legislative session after passing a state Defense of Marriage Act. That meant that same-sex marriage was already illegal in the state of Texas, but the Lege wanted to make it even more illegal, and virtually impossible to overturn legislatively since a one-third minority in either chamber would be able to block it going forward. First it needed to be ratified via referendum, though, and that’s where some of the more colorful arguments in favor of the amendment took place. Looking through my archives from 2005, I spent most of my time following the folks who were working against this awful amendment, but I did link to a pair of op-eds in the Chronicle on the subject. The op-ed in favor of passing the anti-gay marriage amendment is worth your time to read. I have a hard time imagining anything like it, with its condescending and frankly insulting attitude towards same gay people in general and same sex couples in particular, would be deemed acceptable for print in a mainstream publication. I’m not going to quote any of it here because I want to encourage you to click the link and see it for yourself. We’ve come a long way in a short time, but we shouldn’t forget where we once were, and we surely shouldn’t let the people who continue to stand in our way rewrite history.

Runoff day in SA

I think I speak for a lot of people when I say I’m glad the San Antonio Mayoral runoff is almost over. We hope, anyway.

Leticia Van de Putte

Leticia Van de Putte

After weeks of bruising attacks — and at least one hand left unshaken — the San Antonio mayoral race is coming to a close. Presumably.

“It might not end on Saturday,” said Manuel Medina, chairman of the Bexar County Democratic Party, raising the prospect of an election night too close to call, spawning recounts or challenges. “It might be that close.”

Whoever eventually wins the hard-fought runoff, the outcome will be historic. Incumbent Ivy Taylor, appointed to the office after Julián Castro left last year for Washington, D.C., would be the first black person elected to the position. Former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte would be the city’s first Hispanic female mayor.

Higher-than-expected turnout during early voting has both sides claiming momentum. The campaigns say they are especially encouraged by new voters entering the picture, perhaps a measure of enthusiasm largely missing from the rapid-fire series of elections Bexar County has held over the past several months.

If anyone has a lead — however slight — heading into Saturday, it is Taylor, insiders agree. But they say it is nothing Van de Putte cannot overcome with a strong turnout operation come Election Day.

“We know based on data that our voters vote early,” said Justin Hollis, Taylor’s campaign manager. “The challenge, as with any campaign, is just getting the rest of your voters out.”

[…]

The at times vicious back-and-forth has left some political observers looking forward to the day after Saturday.

“It’s gotten more personal and in fact there’s been very little of substantive policy issues, and we do have a lot of issues that need to be addressed in our local government,” said Henry Flores, a political science professor at St. Mary’s University. “And there’s things that hang in the air right now until the end of the election,” Flores added, citing several issues including the city’s contract negotiations with police and firefighters.

I’m pulling for Leticia, but really I’m just glad it will be over, and I say that as someone who isn’t in San Antonio and is still mentally armoring up for the long campaign slog here. The Express-News’ Bruce Davidson adds on:

Mayor Ivy Taylor

Money is a huge advantage in a political campaign, but it can’t guarantee a victory. And the pattern in early voting indicates that Taylor will enjoy a big lead when the early vote totals become public shortly after the polls close Saturday night.

Voting boxes in North Side conservative neighborhoods piled up more votes that the rest of the city. That is typical for a San Antonio election, and while Taylor may not be a Republican, her campaign’s DNA is certainly of the GOP variety.

Democratic and liberal candidates usually close the gap with Election Day voting. It isn’t always enough for victory, but that gives Van de Putte’s team hope.

Van de Putte’s 25-year history as a Democratic legislator is one of the reasons that the politically amorphous mayor can reasonably be viewed as the front-runner. Taylor’s vote against the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, her move to kill the planned streetcar project and public safety union support for Van de Putte also moved conservative voters into the appointed incumbent’s column.

Saturday night’s drama will center around whether Van de Putte can gain enough Election Day votes to overcome Taylor’s expected lead. Weather forecasters are reporting a 50-percent chance of rain on Saturday. Van de Putte’s chances would be damaged by heavy rain.

[…]

Changing demographics have made San Antonio municipal elections more friendly to progressive politicians, although moderates win if they get into a runoff. Phil Hardberger had deep Democratic ties, but was perceived as the moderate candidate in 2005 when he defeated Julián Castro. While Van de Putte is in reality a centrist, Taylor holds the stronger moderate image in this runoff.

I consider that example of how words like “moderate” and “centrist” can mean whatever people want them to mean in certain contexts. Sometimes it’s what you do, sometimes it’s what you say, and sometimes it’s how you say it. Be that as it may, polls are open from 7 till 7 today. Get out and vote, or don’t complain later if you don’t like the result. The Current and the Rivard Report have more.

What happens if SCOTUS does not uphold marriage equality?

Nothing good, that’s for sure.

RedEquality

Gay and lesbian couples could face legal chaos if the Supreme Court rules against same-sex marriage in the next few weeks.

Same-sex weddings could come to a halt in many states, depending on a confusing mix of lower-court decisions and the sometimes-contradictory views of state and local officials.

Among the 36 states in which same-sex couples can now marry are 20 in which federal judges invoked the Constitution to strike down marriage bans.

Those rulings would be in conflict with the nation’s highest court if the justices uphold the power of states to limit marriage to heterosexual couples. A decision is expected by late June in cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

Top officials in some states, including California, seem determined to allow gay and lesbian couples to continue to marry no matter how the court decision comes out. But some county clerks, who actually issue marriage licenses, might not go along, experts said.

In other states, a high court ruling in favor of state bans would serve to prohibit any more such unions, but also could give rise to new efforts to repeal marriage bans through the legislature or the ballot.

The scenario may be unlikely, given the Supreme Court’s role in allowing those lower court rulings to take effect before the justices themselves decided the issue. But if the court doesn’t endorse same-sex marriage nationwide, “it would be chaos,” said Howard Wasserman, a Florida International University law professor.

Marriages already on the books probably are safe, said several scholars and civil liberties lawyers. “There’s a very strong likelihood these marriages would have to be respected, no matter what,” said Christopher Stoll, senior staff attorney with the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Gay and lesbian couples could continue to marry in the 16 states that have same-sex marriage because of state court rulings, acts of the legislature or statewide votes.

Similarly, the 14 states that prohibit same-sex couples from marrying, including the four directly involved in the Supreme Court cases, could continue enforcing their state marriage laws. That would include Alabama, where a federal judge has struck down the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but put her ruling on hold pending the high court’s decision.

Of the remaining 20 states, any that fought unsuccessfully to preserve marriage bans would not have much trouble resuming enforcement. “That state can immediately start saying we’re going to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples going forward,” said Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf.

That’s exactly what would happen here in Texas, with the main difference being that the stay on the original ruling has been in place all along, so with the exception of that one couple in Travis County, no one’s existing marriage would be any more threatened or in limbo than it is today. In this scenario, barring a subsequent SCOTUS ruling that changed course, we would need to repeal the 2005 anti-same-sex-marriage Constitutional amendment. That would require a two thirds vote in both the House and the Senate, followed by a majority vote of the people. I don’t see that happening any time soon, possibly not in my lifetime, since a one-third minority in either chamber would be enough to derail the effort. I have always believed that’s why opponents of equality pushed the Constitutional amendment in the first place, when there was already a state-level Defense of Marriage Act in place: It guaranteed that said state DOMA could not be repealed by a simple majority vote in the Lege.

So yeah, this would be really bad. The good news is that the Court’s actions up till now, primarily in allowing lower court rulings that lifted stays of rulings in favor of equality to stand without hearing the appeals, strongly suggest they are going to rule in favor. But I suppose you never know until it happens, so it’s worthwhile to reflect on what reality would be if they somehow do not.

Where are the women?

I have several things to say about this.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The slate running to replace Mayor Annise Parker features a globetrotting sailor, a triathlete grandfather, a millionaire minister and no women.

Despite the most-crowded pack of mayoral contenders in decades, no female candidates are expected to announce bids this spring, a reality that all but guarantees women will have fewer positions of power at City Hall next year than they had during the last six.

“You are sending a message,” said Kathryn McNeil, a longtime fundraiser who helped elect Parker. “My niece is now 16. For the last six years, she’s seen a strong woman running the city. There’s no question in her mind that a woman could be mayor.”

Though more than 10 candidates likely will appear on November’s ballot, few women even seriously considered the race, which some call a reminder of how much more work Houston’s women must do to achieve political equality.

Some say it creates a less compassionate and less personal, even if equally qualified, field of candidates. It also affects the strength of the democratic process, limiting the diversity of the candidates that voters can choose from when they imagine whom they would like as their next mayor.

“Regardless of who actually wins the race, not having a viable woman candidate can be a disservice for everyone,” said Dee Dee Grays, the incoming president of Women Professionals in Government in Houston.

For the record, in the eleven city elections post-Kathy Whitmire (i.e., since 1993), there has been at least one female Mayoral candidate not named Annise Parker in eight of them:

2013 – Charyl Drab, Keryl Douglas, Victoria Lane
2011 – Amanda Ulman
2009 – Amanda Ulman
2007 – Amanda Ulman
2005 – Gladys House
2003 – Veronique Gregory
2001 – None
1999 – None
1997 – Helen Huey, Gracie Saenz
1995 – Elizabeth Spates
1993 – None

Now, most of these were fringe candidacies – only term-limited Council members Helen Huey and Gracie Saenz in 1997 could have been considered viable, and they were both crushed in the wake of the Lee Brown/Rob Mosbacher/George Greanias campaigns. But for what it’s worth, history does suggest there will be at least one female name on the ballot this year.

Research shows that women nationally need to be recruited to run for office much more than men. That especially is true for executive positions, such as governor or mayor.

Amber Mostyn, the former chair of Annie’s List, a statewide organization that recruits and backs Democratic female candidates, said there is a need for local versions of the organization that would encourage qualified women to make bids for mayor.

“You’ll see men throwing their hat in the ring when they’ve never done the job before and say, ‘I’ll figure it out,’ ” said Mostyn, a Houston lawyer and prominent donor. “Women are very reluctant to do that.”

I’m well aware of the research regarding the recruitment of female candidates. It’s definitely an issue, though I wonder if it will turn out to be a generational one. Perhaps today’s girls and younger women won’t need the same kind of encouragement that their elders currently require. Be that as it may, if there was ever a bad year for that dynamic in the Mayor’s race, it’s this year. I mean, nearly the entire field, not to mention Adrian Garcia, has been known to be planning to run for a long time now. With that many candidates already at the starting line, and presumably working to collect commitments and financial support and campaign advisers, it would undoubtedly be that much harder to make a case for someone else to gear up now and thrown her hat in the ring. As I’ve said many times already, there’s only so much room for viable candidates in this race.

Cindy Clifford, a public relations executive and City Hall lobbyist, said the key to electing a female mayor is to first focus on recruiting women for lower-level elected office and to serve on boards and commissions. That requires a commitment by the city’s leaders to tapping individual women and showing them that they have support.

“If we’re not doing it, no one’s going to come and look for us,” Clifford said. “I always think the cream rises once they’re in the process.”

Council members Brenda Stardig and Ellen Cohen could be joined next year by several top-tier female candidates in council elections this fall, but some worry that the political “pipeline” of female candidates is thin, with few who conceivably could have run for mayor this year. One, Laura Murillo, the head of Houston’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, did publicly explore a mayoral bid last summer before deciding against it.

I would point out that one of the top tier candidates for Mayor this year is someone whose entire political career has been in the Legislature, and that the three main candidates currently running for Mayor in San Antonio include two former legislators and one former County Commissioner. One doesn’t have to be a city officeholder to be a viable Mayoral candidate, is what I’m saying. Hell, none of the three Mayors before Annise Parker had been elected to anything before running for the top job, let alone running for Council. The size of the “pipeline” is as much a matter of framing as anything else. Note also that several women who were once elected to city offices now hold office elsewhere – I’m thinking specifically of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Sen. Sylvia Garcia, Rep. Carol Alvarado, and HISD Trustee Wanda Adams. Pipelines can flow in both directions.

As for the four open Council slots, the seat most likely to be won by a female candidate as things stand right now is At Large #4, where two of the three announced candidates so far are women. Jenifer Pool is running in At Large #1, but if I were forced to make a prediction about it now, I’d say that a Lane Lewis/Chris Oliver runoff is the single most likely outcome. Two of the three candidates that I know of in District H are male – Roland Chavez and Jason Cisneroz – and the third candidate, former HISD Trustee Diana Davila, is ethically challenged. One’s commitment to diversity does not include supporting someone one doesn’t trust. I have no idea at this time who may be running in District G, which is the other term-limited seat. Beyond those races, any additional women will have to get there by knocking off an incumbent.

One last thing: There may not be room for another viable candidate for Mayor, but that isn’t the case for City Controller. There are three known candidates at this time, with two more thinking about it, all men. A Controller campaign would take less time and money, and would therefore likely be fairly ripe for recruitment, especially given that a female candidate in that race would have immediate prominence. As Mayor Parker, and for that matter former Mayor Whitmire, can attest, that office can be a pretty good stepping stone. Just a thought.

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that HCC Trustee Sandie Mullins is planning to run in District G. That not only adds another female candidate for Council, it also indicates that an HCC seat will be open this fall.

Garcia appears to be in for Mayor

Not official yet, but stories like this don’t get run without justification.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia is sending every possible message that he intends to run for mayor this year, aggressively increasing his political operations and signaling to some of his closest advisers and fiercest backers that a campaign may be imminent.

Garcia, under the Texas constitution, would have to resign as a county official immediately upon declaring his candidacy. That presents Garcia, who watchers expect to rocket to the field’s top tier if he joins the burgeoning mayoral fray, with a fateful decision: Does he step down as the county’s premier Democratic officeholder to make a bid that will make him Houston’s first Latino mayor or politically unemployed?

“At the end of the day, it’s like standing at the craps table, placing the bet – and you could walk away with nothing,” said Garcia confidant Greg Compean.

It is a bet Garcia allies said this week he has grappled with and seems willing to make.

“I’d be really surprised if he didn’t,” Compean said.

Garcia, who said last week he still is listening to others and has not yet officially committed to the race, has met with many of the city’s political leaders in advance of an announcement and privately is telling some close allies that he will run. And other evidence is mounting.

[…]

Backers of Garcia have high hopes he could raise the money to compete and that he could win voters beyond Houston’s Latinos, who comprise more than 40 percent of the city but at the most only 15 percent of the electorate. The county’s highest vote-getter in 2012, Garcia is expected to make appeals to some Republican voters in the nonpartisan election.

Garcia also would open himself up to personal attacks over a yearlong political brawl. Some in political circles for months quietly have questioned whether Garcia, who has no college education, can handle the rigors of the city’s top job. And if Garcia resigns as sheriff, some Democratic judges and Latino leaders worry whether the party and the Hispanic community would be hurt without him leading the local ticket.

My thoughts, in no particular order.

1. Garcia would have the advantage of being likely to be the clear frontrunner among at least one segment of the electorate – Latino voters – in the same way that Sylvester Turner would be among African-Americans and Oliver Pennington would be among conservatives. Sure, that is generally a smaller slice of the electorate, but it’s still an advantage, one that most other candidates don’t have. It also makes the pool of voters outside of Turner and Pennington’s bases, which those other candidates will be relying on, that much smaller. Remember that in Mayoral elections, turnout is not immutable. We had some 300,000 voters in 2001 and 2003, 190,000 in 2005 (spurred mostly by the Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage constitutional amendment), between 175,000 and 180,000 in 2009 and 2013, and in the 130,000 range in 2007 and 2011. Remember also that the goal in November is to make it to the runoff. In a multi-candidate field where a couple thousand votes could be the difference between going on to December and going home, being able to coax out some irregular voters is a big deal.

2. I’m not worried about the implications for 2016. The Presidential race will be the driving force for 95%+ of all voters. Hell, if anything having a spirited campaign between an appointed Sheriff that wants to hold the job and a Democratic challenger that wants to win it back is more likely in my opinion to generate excitement than Garcia trouncing another hapless Republican challenger. Note that this isn’t me arguing that Garcia should run for Mayor, or that I’m shrugging off him stepping down as Sheriff if it happens. I’m just thinking through the implications, and that’s how I see it.

3. What Garcia and his backers should be worried about is how pissed off Democratic loyalists could be at the prospect of handing over the Sheriff’s office to a Republican. I mean, everyone is still very raw and angry about what happened this past November. Losing a high profile office, especially one that wasn’t on the line and in the service of someone’s ambition, is going to be a bitter pill for some to swallow. How many is “some”? I don’t know. How hard will it be for Garcia to win them back? Again, I don’t know. I do know that there are two viable Democratic alternatives to Garcia, so those that do decide to carry a grudge have someplace decent to take it. This is their problem to solve, and if they haven’t given it a lot of thought then his path to City Hall is going to be rockier than they might think.

4. The one thing I do know for sure if Garcia gets in is that the current field of hopefuls – declared, soon-to-be-declared, still-thinking-about-it, and so on – will not be what we get on the ballot. Some number of current candidates – at least one – will drop out or decide not to gear up at all. There are a finite amount of resources to help a campaign, and there’s only so much to go around. Fundraising is a component of that, of course, with the proviso that the ability of some candidates to at least partially self-fund may minimize that effect, but it’s not the only one. There are only so many able and willing volunteers, and only so much support from endorsing organizations, many of which may choose to keep their powder dry until a runoff. Some number of candidates – at least one – will not be able to mount the campaign they want to mount. Those candidates will not make it to the starting line. Bank on it.

5. I am now, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, officially undecided in the Mayoral race. There are several candidates I could support. I will need to know more about what they want to do before I make any decisions.

Don’t forget about Pasadena

There’s still a lawsuit in the works regarding their 2013 redistricting referendum that switched their Council from an eight-member all-district makeup to six districts and two At large seats, all at the behest of Mayor Johnny Isbell.

Pasadena City Council

Pasadena is preparing to change the makeup of its city council in a way that city fathers hope fosters new development, but that some Hispanics allege dilutes their influence. The case could become a test of the Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down most of the federal Voting Rights Act, giving cities in many Southern states new latitude to change election laws affecting minorities without first getting federal approval.

“Clearly it was racism,” said Pasadena Councilman Ornaldo Ybarra, one of two Hispanics on Pasadena’s eight-member council, about the town’s planned council changes. The campaign for a new voting system “was meant to scare Anglos, and it was effective,” he said.

In Pasadena, which is roughly 60 percent Hispanic, voters approved a referendum that replaces two city council seats representing districts with at-large seats, which Hispanic leaders say will negate their growing population numbers. The new format was proposed by the mayor, who is white, in July 2013, one month after the high court decision.

The mayor and supporters insist the new format will bring more participation by all Pasadena residents because they’ll have more to vote for. They note that other cities, including Houston, have at-large council members.

[…]

Some Hispanics fear that wealthier white candidates will have the upper hand in at-large races that demand costlier citywide campaigns.

Suing the city on behalf of five Hispanic residents is the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which also took Texas to court over the state’s new voter ID law.

Since the Supreme Court ruling last year, most attention has focused on statewide-voting changes made in some of the 15 states covered by the Voting Rights Act, which was passed during the Civil Rights era. The Pasadena case is one of the first involving a city.

The plaintiffs face the burden of proving intentional discrimination. Civil rights attorneys say they worry that the money and effort of mounting a challenge will discourage action in many cities.

See here, here, here, here, and here. I don’t see any information about when the lawsuit that was filed will be heard, but I’m sure it’s on a docket somewhere. The bit I quoted above is what interests me here, as it contains a testable proposition. The city of Pasadena, which is to say Mayor Isbell and his enablers, claim that by switching to a hybrid at large/single member district system, turnout will increase in Pasadena. I’d love to review what turnout has been in Pasadena over the past few cycles, but for the life of me I can’t find past election results from Pasadena anywhere – they are not in the Harris County Clerk election results, much to my surprise. If anyone can point me to them, I’d be grateful. In any event, there’s another avenue for investigation, and that’s turnout in the Houston district Council races versus turnout in the At Large races, since the Houston model is cited as what Pasadena aspires to. What I’m going to look at is the undervote rate in district versus At Large races, on the theory that if no one casts a vote in a particular race, it’s hard to claim that that race affected overall turnout in a positive way. Here’s the data for Houston, for the last six elections:

2013 Undervote 2011 Undervote 2009 Undervote ============================================================= Mayor 2.76% Mayor 4.18% Mayor 2.05% Dist A 10.36% Dist A 8.85% Dist A 18.24% Dist B 11.12% Dist B 9.78% Dist B 14.94% Dist D 12.53% Dist C 5.61% Dist C 13.30% Dist F 21.40% Dist D 8.91% Dist D 15.05% Dist G 22.47% Dist F 12.96% Dist E 14.98% Dist I 10.44% Dist G 14.32% Dist F 8.64% Dist I 11.73% Dist G 22.51% AL 1 27.49% Dist J 10.74% AL 2 29.76% Dist K 11.44% AL 1 28.48% AL 3 26.37% AL 2 30.65% AL 4 24.87% AL 1 22.50% AL 4 28.36% AL 5 28.03% AL 2 17.97% AL 5 25.89% AL 3 20.81% Controller 22.32% AL 4 20.05% Controller 15.39% AL 5 12.03% 2007 Undervote 2005 Undervote 2003 Undervote ============================================================= Mayor 6.73% Mayor 5.51% Mayor 1.38% Dist B 10.55% Dist A 19.01% Dist A 13.49% Dist C 11.40% Dist B 8.65% Dist B 11.97% Dist D 10.66% Dist C 12.82% Dist C 12.86% Dist E 10.29% Dist F 10.13% Dist E 12.90% Dist I 9.80% Dist H 12.10% Dist F 13.97% Dist I 9.33% Dist G 14.20% AL 1 31.53% Dist H 10.29% AL 2 24.94% AL 1 20.88% Dist I 13.13% AL 3 18.61% AL 2 26.37% AL 5 19.86% AL 3 24.62% AL 1 20.46% AL 5 22.92% AL 2 22.84% AL 3 18.05% AL 4 19.24% AL 5 17.29% Controller 14.04%

So over six cycles, covering the full tenures of two different Mayors and including high-turnout and low-turnout elections, the undervote rate in every single contested At Large race was higher, often significantly higher, than the undervote in every single district race, with the sole exception of At Large 5 and Districts F and G in 2011. That was the year Jolanda Jones was defeated in a runoff by Jack Christie, and it was the highest profile race that year, certainly the highest profile At Large race in any of these six years.

This to me is very strong evidence that At Large races don’t do anything to drive turnout. This should make intuitive sense – At Large races are as expensive to run as Mayoral races, but no one has anywhere near the funds to do that, while District races can be reasonably run with shoe leather and some mail. Candidates in At Large races are not as well known as candidates in district races, who have a far greater incentive to attend smaller neighborhood and civic club meetings. I’d bet we’ll see a similar pattern in Pasadena, with the district races having greater participation than the At Large races. I just hope I’ll be able to find their election results so I can check that.

This will be the first election in Pasadena under this new arrangement, assuming it isn’t thrown out before the election, which I would not expect to happen. I wish I could say that Mayor Isbell was on the ballot and that this was a chance to throw him out, but alas, he has a four year term and was re-elected in 2013. This is a chance to unseat a couple of his minions, however, and if there’s a good local opportunity for anyone upset with the 2014 elections to focus on, it’s here. The Texas Organizing Project did a lot of good work in trying to defeat the 2013 redistricting referendum, and with a little more help they might have succeeded. Whatever happens with the lawsuit, it would be nice to turn the tables in this election. You want to make a difference, get involved with TOP and help support some good candidates in Pasadena this year.

UT/Trib poll says Texans would be fine with same sex marriage

A result of interest from the most recent UT/Trib poll:

Registered Texas voters narrowly oppose same-sex marriage, but a large majority is open to allowing either marriage or civil unions to gays and lesbians, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Asked whether those couples should be allowed to marry, 42 percent say yes and 47 percent say no, the poll found. When civil unions are added to the question, voters are more permissive: 39 percent say they would allow marriage, 28 percent would allow civil unions and 25 percent say they would not allow either sort of formal bond.

“The culture war is a lot more complex than you think,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s not like people have said everything should be Amsterdam. The way in which you execute it does matter. What you really find is that people are subtle. They appreciate conditions and context.”

Partisan differences show up in the poll responses. A strong majority of Democrats — 62 percent — would allow gay marriages, even with the alternative of civil unions available. Only 14 percent of Republicans would do that, but another 45 percent would allow civil unions. Voters who identify themselves as independents were closer to the Democrats on this question, with 53 percent approving of gay marriage and another 20 percent in favor of the civil unions option.

The most frequent churchgoers — those who say they attend more than one service per week — are most likely to oppose same-sex unions: 55 percent say they oppose both marriage and civil unions for those couples. A majority of other churchgoers, including those who say they attend services once a week, would allow some form of unions.

I’m not going to suddenly become a fan of this poll just because they produced a result I like, but this is generally consistent with other polling on the subject of same sex marriage in Texas. More to the point, it highlights another contradiction in the stance taken by Greg Abbott as Attorney General, an Ken Paxton as a candidate for AG, on the subject of same sex marriage and the ongoing litigation to overturn the state’s ban against it. Both of them like to cite the 2005 referendum that enshrined the ban on same sex marriage in the state constitution, which passed by a 3-1 margin, as justification for their support of continuing the fight to uphold that ban. Well, that 3-1 majority doesn’t exist any more. A lot of the people who voted for that referendum nine years ago would vote against it today if they had the chance. It’s just a matter of time before there is a solid majority in Texas in favor of same sex marriage. What would Abbott and Paxton say then? I remember what I said back in 2005, which is that the reason for the push to make something that was already illegal constitutionally banned was to ensure that a simple majority could not some day overturn that. We are at or near the point of that majority, and by now all of the other justifications for banning same sex marriage have been shown to be garbage. Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton are working not to uphold the will of the people but to thwart it.

It really is about more than just marriage

Jo Ann Santangelo writes for the Observer about what it means to be in a same-sex marriage that isn’t recognized as legal by the state of Texas.

RedEquality

In 2012, my wife, Kate, and I traveled more than 3,400 miles from Austin and back to marry legally in New York City. Seven years earlier, in November 2005, our fellow Texas voters had approved Proposition 2, amending the Texas Constitution to declare that “Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman,” thereby banning same-sex marriage within the state’s borders.

Like other same-sex couples who live in Texas, we are denied access to 1,138 federal rights, benefits and privileges because our marriage is not recognized here. That list, tallied in a 2003 report by the General Accounting Office, includes Social Security, military and veterans’ benefits, employment rights, and immigration and naturalization privileges.

In the eyes of Texas, Kate is not my next of kin. To approximate the status that a legally recognized marriage would confer, our attorney has recommended that we file six different contracts: a medical power of attorney and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act release; statutory durable power of attorney; declaration of guardian; directive to physicians; appointment of agent to control disposition of remains; and a last will and testament.

We have recently begun trying to become parents. Kate will be the birth mother. A lawyer has been necessary in this process as well. Months ago we started discussing the paperwork that will be required for me to adopt our child. We discovered that even after I file this paperwork, am screened and declared a fit mother by Child Protective Services, and appear in front of a judge, my name can never appear on our child’s birth certificate due to Texas Health and Safety Code 192.008, which states, “The supplementary birth certificate of an adopted child must be in the names of the adoptive parents, one of whom must be a female, named as the mother, and the other of whom must be a male, named as the father.”

You can see that GAO report here; it’s actually an update to a report from 1997, prepared after the passage of the now-unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act that listed a mere 1,049 “federal statutory provisions classified to the United States Code in which benefits, rights, and privileges are contingent on marital status or in which marital status is a factor”. All these rights that the rest of us get to take for granted were a part of the argument against Prop 2 in 2005, but unfortunately they fell on deaf ears. The courts are likely to grant same sex couples the right to have their marriages recognized and to get married wherever they want, but a lot of those “benefits, rights, and privileges” are codified into state laws as well, and their practical effect won’t disappear overnight when and if SCOTUS makes a favorable ruling in the Utah case. As the Riggs and Hanna case showed, there are lots more issues to be sorted out, and this will take time because the Lege is unlikely to deal with the business of repealing these soon-to-be-unconstitutional laws. I mean hell, the anti-sodomy statute struck down by the Lawrence ruling of 2003 is still on the books. It’s going to take a lot of court cases clear these matters up one by one, which will mean a lot more harm and hardship to many same sex couples.

In her essay, Santagelo talked to six other same sex couples about their experiences, including one of the two couples that served as plaintiffs in the case that struck down Texas’ marriage law, which is now pending appeal.

Nicole: “[When we were discussing having children] we thought, ‘Do we get married now even though it’s not legal in our own state?’ We knew we wanted to have kids, but we didn’t want to have kids and not be married. We’re both pretty traditional people. There’s just no way we’re going to have kids out of wedlock, and I wanted to be able to tell [our son] that we’re as married as we can possibly be. … She had an inordinately hard labor, a C-section that wasn’t planned. It became an emergency. For about 30 minutes we didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Cleo: “It only comes up in some of the most vulnerable times. During the labor and delivery—you can’t adopt a child while he or she is in utero, so if something had happened … they become essentially orphans, they don’t have a second parent. The [legal arrangements] that we had, she could make decisions for me. She couldn’t make health decisions for him. We didn’t even think of that. You don’t think about those things. You think that you’re covered, you talk to your lawyer, you’ve got everything filed and prepared and ready, and then you’re in this situation and all of a sudden it dawns on you, ‘Oh my God.’ It really drove home the need to change the laws in this state. … So we are vulnerable, and that’s one of the reasons why we feel so strongly about the lawsuit that we’re in. We want to make sure that all the default laws that are afforded to different-sex couples are given to us as well, because we’re a family and we feel that if the state really wants to promote responsible procreation, then why are you making it harder for us?”

Nicole: “You don’t have an accidental kid in a gay relationship. There is so much intention and planning that goes into having a kid. There’s nothing irresponsible about that.”

Reading that just kills me. I can’t begin to wrap my mind around the hell that Nicole Dimetman and her son would have faced if tragedy had struck, but the point is that she shouldn’t have had to think about that. The sooner we as a society fix this injustice, the better.

Final EV totals

Here’s the final Harris County EV tally for the 2013 runoff, and here’s how the numbers stack up against the four most recent citywide runoff elections that did not include a Mayoral race.

Year Absent Early E-Day Total Absent% Early% E-Day% ============================================================ 2005 5,350 8,722 24,215 38,287 13.97% 22.78% 62.25% 2007s 5,464 7,420 11,981 24,865 21.97% 29.84% 48.18% 2007 4,456 6,921 13,313 24,690 18.05% 28.03% 53.92% 2011 8,700 15,698 31,688 56,086 15.51% 27.99% 56.50% 2013 9,883 10,143

“2007s” refers to the At Large #3 special election, in which Melissa Noriega defeated Roy Morales. As a seat-of-my-pants, I-don’t-feel-like-thinking-about-it-too-much guess, I’ll venture that about 45% of the total vote has been cast so far. Projecting that out, and throwing in a thousand or two votes from Fort Bend County, and I’d peg the final total to be in the 45,000 to 50,000 range. Not too bad as this sort of thing goes, but hardly inspiring.

As for how the races are going, I feel about the same now as I did the day after the November results came in. I’d make David Robinson, Michael Kubosh, Helena Brown, and Dwight Boykins the favorites, with District I too close to call. I have no clue about the HCC races, which as always are about as visible as a star system from the Big Bang. Surprises do happen, of course, which is why we actually have the elections instead of just letting blowhards like me decide who’s winning. Go vote if you haven’t already – I’ll remind you again tomorrow – and we’ll see what the last Council of Mayor Parker’s tenure looks like.

Still no injunction in voter registration lawsuit

Unfortunate.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July finance reports for non-candidates

Not everyone who files a finance report with the city is running for something this November. Term-limited incumbents, and former candidates who still have money in their campaign treasuries are required to file reports as well. Here’s a look a those who did this July:

Dist Candidate Raised Spent On Hand Loan ------------------------------------------------------- AL3 Noriega 25,245 5,224 23,602 11,000 D Adams I Rodriguez 0 3,274 10,293 0 2011 Jones 0 0 3,203 0 2005 Lee 0 0 1,287 0 2009 Locke 0 427 4,065 0 2003 Berry 0 5,000 0 71,622

Here are all the reports. I did not find one for CM Wanda Adams. Doesn’t mean she didn’t file one – as noted CM Cohen filed one but it’s not visible on the city’s finance reports page – but one was not to be found.

Noriega report
Rodriguez report

Jones report
Lee report
Locke report
Berry report

CM Melissa Noriega has some debt, which is why she raised funds this year. I have no idea if she plans to run for something else in the future, but if she does I’ll be in the front row, cheering her on. I’m pretty sure she lives in Commissioners Court Precinct 2, not that I’m hinting or anything. CM James Rodriguez has been reportedly interested in taking on Commissioner Morman in 2014, but if so he hasn’t started fundraising for it.

As for the former candidates, I listed the year of their last election instead of an office, since only two of them held one. I presume at this point that Jolanda Jones is not going to push boundaries and run for District D. It wouldn’t surprise me if she does run for something else someday, but it doesn’t look like this will be the year for that. Mark Lee ran for Controller in 2003 and District C in 2005, narrowly missing the runoff in the latter race. Neither he nor Gene Locke nor Michael Berry seem likely to run for anything again, but one never knows. Unlike Congress and the Legislature, there’s just not that much leftover city campaign money lying around.

First lawsuit filed against Texas Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage amendment

Probably not a game-changer, however.

RedEquality

A Galveston man filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday challenging a provision of the Texas Constitution defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman.

Domenico Nuckols, 60, said he believes he will prevail because of last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which included the same definition of marriage.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle, but I fired the first shot,” Nuckols said.

The gay rights group Equality Texas was unaware of any similar lawsuits since the Supreme Court Decision, said Chuck Smith, executive director. A section of the state constitution’s Bill of Rights reads, “Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and woman.” A ballot measure adding the clause passed in 2005 with 75 percent of the vote.

[…]

Nuckols, a retired nuclear engineer, is representing himself and has asked the court to waive his filing fees.

Although supportive of Nuckols’ goal, Smith worried that Nuckols’ lack of an attorney may indicate that he doesn’t have a well-planned legal strategy.

“I would not encourage someone to do something like this without having legal counsel to asses the strategic values of the case,” Smith said. “If you don’t do it the right way you can do more harm than good by losing a case and setting a negative precedent.”

As you know, I Am Not A Lawyer, but I am not too worried about this suit creating a bad precedent because I doubt it will survive a motion to dismiss. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but I don’t think one can advance a lawsuit like this without demonstrating that one has been harmed by the conflict between federal and state law. Since DOMA has just been struck down, and people are still analyzing the opinion and figuring out what its implications are, it has to be too soon for anyone to demonstrate such harm. Mr. Nuckols is talking about being harmed by the deportation of his partner in 1986. I don’t doubt that he was harmed by that, but I don’t think the striking down of DOMA – which didn’t even exist in 1986 – can be used to address that.

I am sure, just as Chuck Smith is, that someone will come forward soon enough that will have good cause for a lawsuit. I have always believed that this is the shortest path to remedy the damage that the 2005 Double Secret Anti-Gay Marriage constitutional amendment cased. Public opinion is changing – support for marriage equality is now the pluarlity position in Texas – but as we know it’ll take a lot more than that to repeal a constitutional amendment. I’m also quite sure that when the right case comes along, the plaintiffs will not be representing themselves. I wish Mr. Nuckols all the best, but I don’t expect his name to be the one associated with the eventual case that brings equality to Texas.

What does the DOMA decision mean for Texas?

Last week, the day after the disappointing SCOTUS ruling on the Voting Rights Act, we got a much more heartening ruling on DOMA, declaring it to be unconstitutional. However, not all of DOMA was struck down.

In a landmark Supreme Court decision on Wednesday, justices ruled that Section 3 of the 1996 law, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples, is unconstitutional. As Justice Anthony Kennedy argued, “DOMA writes inequality into the entire United States Code.”

But other parts of the law itself are still in effect, including Section 2. This part of the law allows states where same-sex marriage is either illegal or unrecognized not to honor the legal unions from other states around the country. Say a same-sex couple gets married in Iowa; their marriage does not have to be recognized in Alabama. This could become an issue if a couple needs to move to a different state.

That includes Texas, of course. The fact that same-sex marriage remains illegal in Texas was noted by the Chronicle:

“Individual states will continue to enforce their laws until challenged, but we see those challenges coming,” said Houston appellate lawyer Allie Levy. “We will have to go state by state, but we might have much better weapons than we had before.”

Local blogger Michael Coppens believes Wednesday’s rulings make the building momentum for full marriage equality unstoppable.

“For Texas, it doesn’t have a huge impact immediately,” said Coppens, who is gay. “We still have a long way to go. Congratulations to California – they’ve got it and we don’t. But fundamentally it turns the tide. I don’t think the national movement for same-sex marriage can be stopped. With the general public becoming more supportive, and now this ruling taking place, you have the foundation for the anti-gay marriage laws we have across the country going away.”

And by the Dallas Morning News.

“Texas still bars couples from same-sex marriage, and this decision doesn’t change that,” said Cary Franklin, a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office declined to comment on the effect of the rulings.

One Democratic lawmaker, Fort Worth state Rep. Lon Burnam, immediately vowed to reintroduce legislation to legalize same-gender marriages in Texas. The state became the 19th to adopt a constitutional ban of same-sex unions in 2005.

“It’s a perfect opportunity to refile my marriage-equality bill, and that’s the first thing I will do on Monday,” said Burnam, who filed a similar bill in February that died in committee.

The bill cannot advance in the Texas Legislature’s special session unless Gov. Rick Perry, an ardent opponent of same-sex marriage, adds it to the agenda.

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that married same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits and, by declining to decide a case from California, effectively allowed same-sex marriages there.

UT’s Franklin said the high court’s rulings may inspire lawsuits, anti-discrimination policies and scrutiny of same-sex marriage bans nationwide.

“People in Texas didn’t immediately gain any rights, but the court issued a decision that talked about the importance of equality for couples,” she said.

RedEquality

I noted Rep. Burnam’s bill, which will not see the light of day in the special session but which is still laudatory, over the weekend. There’s no question that right-thinking legislators need to mount a full assault on Texas’ awful Double Secret Illegal anti-gay marriage amendment, in the 2014 campaigns and in the 2015 legislative session – and beyond, as will be necessary – but as I have said before, the fact that it is in the constitution makes this an extra heavy lift. I continue to believe that the death of this atrocity will come from a courtroom and not the Lege, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to kill it in the Lege. It’s still the right thing to do, and hey, you never know. Attitudes have shifted so quickly on the national level, I may be wrong about how long it will take to shift sufficiently here to make a legislative fix viable. Nobody would have thought we’d be where we are now after that stupid thing was ratified in 2005.

There is another avenue available to apply pressure on this, and that’s in the cities and school districts. They need to have full, up to date non-discrimination policies, and they need to offer domestic partner benefits, even if they can’t call them “domestic partner benefits”. Make as much of Texas as gay-friendly as possible within the confines of the current law, and get as many people as possible used to the idea that this is the way things are now. The entities that already have such policies are keeping them in the face of hostility from AG Abbott and some small-minded legislators; they could use some company. If that leads to lawsuits from the forces of backwardness, I say bring it. I don’t fear this being fought out in court.

What that means for those of us who support equality is that in addition to supporting like-minded candidates for state office, we need to support them for local offices, too. Where do your Mayors and Council members and school board trustees stand on this? We’re behind the curve here in Houston thanks to a 2001 charter referendum that banned the city from offering domestic partner benefits. We can’t have a charter amendment referendum until either November 2014 or May 2015 (because we passed amendments last November and can’t put any others on a ballot until two calendar years after that date), and it’s time to start working towards that. Mayor Annise Parker has applauded the SCOTUS DOMA ruling – as far as I can tell by looking at their Facebook pages, she is the only one of the four Mayoral candidates to have commented on this. That’s a good start, but she and all other candidates for Houston city offices need to be pushed to take action on undoing the ban on offering domestic partner benefits. HISD Trustee candidates need to be pushed on offering such benefits, too, if only to get the stench of the 2011 election out of everyone’s mouths. The same is true for other cities and other school boards. I mean, the Supreme Court has just unequivocally acknowledged that this kind of discrimination is wrong. What are we waiting for? BOR, CultureMap, and the Trib have more.

UPDATE: Kudos to Texpatriate for getting a statement out of Eric Dick, and trying to get one out of Ben Hall.

Opposition gearing up for the water fund amendment

The legislation to create a state water infrastructure fund, and the joint resolution that authorized tapping the Rainy Day Fund for up to $2 billion to seed it, had a rocky road in the legislature and wasn’t completed until the last weekend of the regular session. Now the task is to pass the constitutional amendment that the joint resolution enabled on the ballot, and that’s no sure thing, either.

If ratified in the Nov. 5 election, the proposed constitutional amendment would create a state water development bank that supporters say is vital to help Texas avert a worsening water shortage over the next half-century.

The unfolding campaign appears almost certain to match the contours of the legislative debate, balancing the need to keep Texas economically vibrant with a robust water supply against Tea Party-fueled opposition over spending rainy-day money on the multibillion-dollar program.

Nine other amendments are heading to the state’s 13 million-plus voters, but Senate Joint Resolution 1 is easily the farthest-reaching. Senate Natural Resources Chairman Troy Fraser, a chief proponent, said he hopes to muster “an army of people” into the campaign to push the measure to victory.

The effort is expected to include much of the state’s political leadership, including Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

H204Texas, a coalition that includes chambers of commerce, energy companies, water suppliers and other interests, has already started mapping out a political-style campaign that includes fundraising, media buys, op-ed pieces and elaborate use of social media.

“We’re already in full force,” said Heather Harward, the coalition’s executive director.

[…]

But opposition is also taking shape as an array of conservative groups — including Tea Party and citizens lobby organizations — work their formidable email networks to point up what they say are a number of reasons why the initiative should be defeated.

Recycling a major element from the legislative debate, opponents have begun to denounce the proposed use of $2 billion in state rainy-day funds, which lawmakers approved in a separate appropriations bill to capitalize the proposed bank.

Opponents say that putting the $2 billion into a constitutionally dedicated fund enables supporters to avoid having the money count against a state spending cap, which conservatives both in and out of the Legislature have vowed to protect vigorously.

“We’re going to have to oppose it,” said JoAnn Fleming of Tyler, executive director of Grassroots America, which she said networks with more than 300 Tea Party and liberty organizations.

Fleming said members of her organization and related groups plan to work through summer and fall in a “good old-fashioned grassroots effort” to drum up votes against the initiative. “We’ve been successful with that in the past,” she said.

One influential conservative group, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, came out against the proposal during the just-ended regular legislative session, but group President Michael Quinn Sullivan said in an email that “it’s premature to speculate on what we may or may not be doing in the fall on constitutional amendments.”

“A great many conservative groups opposed SJR1 in the legislature,” said Sullivan, who is president of Empower Texans and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. “We know a lot of folks are going to be talking about it in the fall. If or when we decide to engage in that issue, we’ll engage.”

Chuck Molyneaux of McKinney, 73, a retired software developer who heads the North Texas Citizens Lobby, said his organization is reaching out to its allies in the Tea Party community to oppose the measure and the proposed use of rainy-day funds.

“We’re going to do our best to keep it from being passed,” he said. “This one just reeks of smoke and mirrors.”

I’ll save the debate about the merits of the amendment for another day. I just want to point out that historically speaking, the vast majority of amendments that get put on the ballot do get passed. However, three of the five that were defeated in the past decade went down in 2011. Here’s a brief recap of how this voting has gone:

2011 – 7/10 passed
2009 – 11/11 passed
2007 – 16/16 passed
2005 – 7/9 passed
2003 – 22/22 passed

There are two interesting things about the 2011 election. One is that the referenda that failed were not exactly high profile or had any apparent opposition going into the election. Here’s the ballot statement of the five amendments in 2011 and 2005 that were rejected, first from 2011:

Prop 4 Permit county to issue bonds for development, 40.26 to 59.73
Prop 7 Permit El Paso County to create reclamation districts, 48.29 to 51.50
Prop 8 Appraisal for ad valorem tax of land devoted to water stewardship, 47.00 to 52.99

And from 2005:

Prop. 5 Commercial loan interest rates defined by Legislature, 43.41 to 56.48
Prop. 9 Six-Year term for regional mobility authority, 46.67 to 53.32

Unlike 2005, the year of the Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage amendment, there wasn’t anything particularly high profile in 2011, though Prop 4 was opposed by various anti-toll road groups. I have no memory of the defeated issues from 2005. The other thing about the 2011 election was that it had the lowest turnout of any referendum on this list:

2011 Turnout – 690,052
2009 Turnout – 1,058,986
2007 Turnout – 1,096,410
2005 Turnout – 2,260,695
2003 Turnout – 1,470,443

That might have had something to do with it, though recall that the 2003 election, which included the medical malpractice tort “reform” referendum was held in September (back when there was still a uniform election date in September) for the deliberate purpose of keeping turnout low, which supporters of tort “reform” assumed would be better for their cause. They didn’t want to be on the same ballot as the high-turnout Houston Mayoral election that year. It’s not clear to me whether turnout will be a factor one way or the other for SJR1, but on the whole the lower the turnout the greater the influence of the more motivated voters, and I’d put my money on the antis being more motivated at this time. So keep an eye on that. EoW has more.

Abbott opines against domestic partnership benefits

This should not come as a surprise to anyone.

On the right side of history

The state Constitution prohibits government entities from recognizing domestic partnerships and offering insurance benefits to those couples, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote in an opinion on Monday.

In the nonbinding opinion, Abbott determined that local jurisdictions that offer such benefits “have created and recognized something” — domestic partnerships — “not established by Texas law.”

“A court is likely to conclude that the domestic partnership legal status about which you inquire is ‘similar to marriage’ and therefore barred” by the state Constitution, he wrote.

The opinion was a response to a question asked by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who had raised concerns about the Pflugerville school district, as well as the cities of El Paso, Austin and Fort Worth, extending such benefits to domestic partners.

“The voters of the state of Texas decided overwhelmingly that marriage is between one man and one woman in 2005,” Patrick said in a statement responding to Abbott’s opinion. “This opinion clearly outlines that cities, counties and school districts cannot subvert the will of Texans.”

You can read the opinion here. I called this back in November when Patrick asked for the opinion, not that this is anything to be proud of. A few thoughts:

– Remember back in 2005 when those of us who opposed that awful anti-gay marriage amendment pointed out that it would do a lot more than merely make gay marriage extra super illegal (since it was already illegal in Texas)? This is the sort of thing we were talking about. Legislative Democrats that still haven’t gotten on board the marriage equality bus, this is especially on you.

– Note that since the language of Abbott’s opinion is all about how the amendment banned anything “similar to marriage” and how that encompasses the term “domestic partner”, this isn’t strictly about LGBT folks. If you’re shacking up with your opposite sex partner but have chosen not to tie the knot, you’re SOL if you work for a non-federal government entity in Texas.

– Of course, if you are one half of a straight unmarried couple, you can always tie the knot to get your hands on health insurance. Gay people can get married now, too, but the state of Texas does not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that this would be the seed of that law’s downfall in the event that SCOTUS throws out DOMA. If we’re lucky, this will turn out to be a massive and petty waste of time.

– If you read the opinion, Abbott tries to play a little jiujitsu by claiming that the intent of the law was not to bar cities from offering same sex partners insurance benefits, just from recognizing the status of a marriage-like thing such as a domestic partnership:

Representative Chisum’s statement simply explains that article I, section 32 does not, in his view, address whether a political subdivision may provide health benefits to the unmarried partner of an employee. The constitutional provision does, however, explicitly prohibit a political subdivision from creating or recognizing a legal status identical or similar to marriage. The political subdivisions you ask about have not simply provided health benefits to the partners of their employees. Instead, they have elected to create a domestic partnership status that is similar to marriage. Further, they have recognized that status by making it the sole basis on which health benefits may be conferred on the domestic partners of employees.

For extra credit, please detail a scenario in which an insurance company would offer a benefit for the unmarried partner of an employee that didn’t require some kind of legal affirmation of a relationship between the applicant and the employee that would also be constitutionally acceptable to Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and other deep thinkers such as Drew Springer.

– This absolutely, positively has to be a campaign issue in 2014. I can’t emphasize this enough. People may remain largely opposed to gay marriage in Texas, but by a two to one margin they approve of either gay marriage or civil unions. I’m willing to bet a decent majority will not like this opinion. More to the point, this is an issue that Democrats can rally around, since it illustrates in unmistakeable terms a key difference between the two parties. Even better, this can be hung around Abbott’s neck. Sure, he’s only taking his best guess at how a court would decide the issue, but it’s also unambiguously the same as his own position. Let him explain why it’s technically inaccurate to say that Greg Abbott outlawed domestic partnership benefits in Texas. This goes for Drew Springer and all of his coauthors, too. This is a big deal. We need to treat it like one.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but let’s keep our eyes open for the reactions to this. Trail Blazers, Hair Balls, and BOR have more.

UPDATE: Equality Texas goes glass-half-full on the opinion:

It means cities, counties, and school districts seeking to remain competitive with private business can offer employee benefit programs that provide health and other benefits to unmarried household members if the eligibility criteria are properly structured.

However, eligibility should not use the term “domestic partner”, or be based upon proving the existence of a “domestic partnership”, or use criteria usually associated with marriage (like current marital status, or related by a certain degree of consanguinity).

It means political subdivisions can offer employee benefit programs to unmarried household members if their eligibility criteria don’t look like marriage, or create something that resembles marriage.

I appreciate their optimism, and I hope they’re right. But I still think that the challenge of fashioning such a thing will be too daunting. I’ll be glad to be proven wrong.

UPDATE: The cities of Austin and San Antonio are not quite ready to accept Abbott’s opinion.

Chron overview of SD06

The day before early voting begins in the SD06 special election (which is today), the Chron previews the race. It has a lot of stuff we already know, and it mostly focuses on the two frontrunners, Sylvia Garcia and Rep. Carol Alvarado, so I’m not going to recapitulate that. There are a couple of interesting tidbits that I want to mention.

With eight candidates in the race in an overwhelmingly Democratic district that includes Houston’s East End, the race is likely to come down to a battle between two prominent Democrats, state Rep. Carol Alvarado, whose House district overlaps much of the Senate district, and former Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia.

Also running are R.W. Bray, the Republican candidate who lost to Gallegos last fall; Democrats Susan Delgado, Joaquin Martinez and Rodolfo “Rudy” Reyes; Republican Dorothy Olmos; and Green Party candidate Maria Selva.

If a runoff is needed – and with so many candidates, one is likely – it will be held between Feb. 23 and March 9, with Gov. Rick Perry scheduling the exact date.

[…]

Among the state’s 31 senate districts, this predominantly Hispanic district ranks last in the number of registered voters (284,000) and in 2012 voter turnout (138,000). [Rice poli sci prof Mark] Jones estimates that fewer than 1 in 10 registered voters and 1 in 25 district residents will cast a ballot.

While there have been a number of legislative special elections in recent years, there hasn’t been one like this, in a strongly Democratic district with two clear leaders and at least one Republican who will likely do better than the default background candidate rate. The closest match is the 2005 special election in HD143 in which Rep. Ana Hernandez was elected to succeed the late Rep. Joe Moreno. It’s not an exact match because there were no declared Republicans in the race, though one of the minor candidates was the same Dorothy Olmos who is running in this race (and has run in many others since 2005) as a Republican. Hernandez and runnerup Laura Salinas combined for 68.4% in that race, with four other candidates splitting the remaining 31.6%. PDiddie does some crunching to suggest a vote total that would win this race in the first round. I look at it this way: Assume Bray gets 15%, and the other five combine to take 10%. For either Garcia or Alvarado to win it on January 26, one would have to beat the other by at least 25 points, i.e., by at least a 50-25 margin, since 25% of the vote is already accounted for. Do you think that’s even remotely possible? I sure don’t. And if the non-Sylvia and Carol candidates combine for more of the vote, a first-round winner would need an even wider margin. Ain’t gonna happen.

As for the vote total that Jones predicts, here’s a look at the four most recent Senate special elections:

Dist Date Num Votes Top 2 ================================ 22 May 2010 4 29,851 81.47 17 Dec 2008 2 43,673 84.52 31 Jan 2004 7 69,415 66.27 01 Jan 2004 6 69,206 75.50

“Num” is the number of candidates, and “Top 2” is the combined percentage of the top two candidates. There was a runoff in each case, and I’m cheating a little with the SD17 special election – the vote total (“Votes”) is from the runoff, since the special election itself (which had 6 candidates) was on the date of the 2008 general election, and thus had the kind of turnout (223,295) one would expect for a regular Senate election. I don’t know how much you can extrapolate from all this, but you write your blog post with the data you have, not the data you wish you had. For what it’s worth, from chatting with the campaigns I’d say they’re expecting a slightly higher vote total than Jones is projecting. We’ll see.

One more thing:

If a runoff is needed – and with so many candidates, one is likely – it will be held between Feb. 23 and March 9, with Gov. Rick Perry scheduling the exact date.

[…]

Meanwhile, the district’s approximately 813,000 residents will be without representation in the state Senate until the latter half of March, when the newly elected senator will be sworn in.

I would think that if the runoff is no later than March 9 that the newly-elected Senator would be sworn in sooner than “the latter half of March”. I know there’s a canvass period for election results that can take a week or more before the result is certified, but does that hold everything up until it’s done? It’s not usually a consideration because we have elections in November and swearings-in in January, but obviously here it does matter. The statutes on elections to fill a legislative vacancy were not clear to me on this, and the last time we had a vacancy during a session (2005, when Rep. Moreno died in an auto accident), the ensuing special election was not called until November. Anyone have a good answer for this?

Patrick wants AG opinion domestic partner benefits

Gotta keep an eye on those tricky gays and the people who want to treat them as equals.

On the right side of history

State Sen. Dan Patrick on Friday asked the Texas Attorney General’s Office to issue an opinion on whether government entities that provide domestic partner insurance benefits are violating the state constitution.

Patrick, R-Houston, said his request was prompted by recent decisions of the Pflugerville Independent School District and Dallas County, to offer domestic partner benefits to their employees. He cited the 2005 state constitutional amendment approved by voters that defines marriage as between one man and one woman and prohibits government entities from creating or recognizing anything identical or similar to marriage.

“The question is, are they pushing the envelope to the edge or are they violating the law?” Patrick said. “I would like the Texas Attorney General to opine on that question.”

[…]

El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar said the county currently is enrolling employees under its domestic partnership benefits policy, passed in August. She said she believes the policy is not only fair, but offers a competitive benefits package that helps to recruit new employees and retain existing ones.

“We believe in offering benefits to everyone who works for the county,” she said. “Dedicated public servants deserve these benefits.”

Escobar called it disconcerting to see Patrick question the legality of offering domestic partnership benefits at a time when local governments have taken hard hits because of state budget cuts.

“We’ve had to balance our budgets on the backs of our employees,” she said. “Is he (Patrick) now trying to tie our hands and limit our ability to adequately compensate our public servants?”

I always find it funny how when the federal government does something that affects states it’s an unconscionable attack on freedom, but when the state does something that affects cities, it’s wholly unremarkable. Maybe it’s just that whatever level of government you’re in, that’s the most important one.

I will not be surprised if Abbott’s opinion goes against the cities and school districts that have taken this step in favor of equality. Those of us who opposed the 2005 Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage constitutional amendment warned that it was very broadly worded, in addition to being, you know, wrong. It is of course possible that all of this is an academic exercise, that the future ruling that DOMA is unconstitutional will negate these restrictions and clear the way for true equality. At least, I sure hope that’s what will happen, but who knows when that will be if it does. In the meantime, this is just another opportunity for Patrick and Abbott and their fellow travelers to do real harm to real families. I hope they’re proud of themselves.

More on Sen. Gallegos

For better or worse, we must discuss the politics of Sen. Mario Gallegos’ death this week. The first question to address is what happens next?

Sen. Mario Gallegos

Rich Parsons, a spokesman for Secretary of State Hope Andrade, this morning clarified the timing of a special election in state Senate District 6 if the late Mario Gallegos Jr. wins re-election posthumously.

Gallegos, 62, a Houston Democrat and retired firefighter, died Tuesday from complications of a liver transplant several years ago.

Explained Parsons:

Gallegos’s name cannot be removed from the November general election ballot because it is within 74 days of the election. If he wins on election day, the seat will be declared officially vacant, and Gov. Rick Perry will call an expedited special election to fill it.

It must be held within 21-45 days after Perry calls for the election, officials said, meaning the special election would be held sooner than the May date that Houston officials said late Tuesday was expected.

Gallegos is on the ballot with Republican R.W. Bray, who is considered a long-shot. If Bray should be elected, he will take the seat.

Here’s the relevant statute for why Sen. Gallegos will remain on the ballot. We had a similar situation in 2006 when State Rep. Glenda Dawson passed away in September. As was the case with Rep. Dawson, I fully expect Sen. Gallegos to win re-election and thus trigger a special election to replace him. The real question is when will that special election be? The Trib notes the math.

It’s not a swing district. President Obama got 63.5 percent of the vote in 2008. Republican Gov. Rick Perry got 31 percent in 2010. It’s not a race the Democrats were sweating.

[…]

Bray would be the 20th Republican in the 31-member Senate. If Democrat Wendy Davis of Fort Worth were to lose her hotly contested re-election race, Republican Mark Shelton would become the 21st Republican. That’s consequential: Under current rules, it takes consent from two-thirds of the senators to bring up legislation for consideration. With 21 senators, the Republicans would have two-thirds and, on partisan bills, enough votes to disregard the Democrats.

Here are the relevant laws for filling the office of a state legislator who has died. While I expect Sen. Gallegos to defeat Bray (a former staffer of CM Helena Brown, if you’re wondering where you heard that name before), it becomes critical if Sen. Wendy Davis does not win. If Sen. Gallegos wins re-election, then the Democrats will continue to have at least 11 Senators, which is enough for them to block legislation via the two thirds rule, or whatever is left of it when the Senate adopts its rules for the session. At least, they will have that many once the special election is settled, which if it is indeed expedited should be well before any serious votes come up. The important thing if you live in SD06 is that you still have a responsibility to vote for Sen. Gallegos.

At least, that’s how it would be until the special election is held to replace Sen. Gallegos, assuming that he wins in November. But here’s the thing – Rick Perry isn’t required to call the special election until the next uniform election date, which will be in May. Given the near certainty of a runoff in what will be a multi-candidate race, that means that SD06 would go unrepresented for the entire session. Which would be mighty convenient for the Republicans.

Now, Governor Perry does have the discretion to call an expedited election. That’s what he did in the case of Rep. Dawson – the special election to fill her seat came six weeks after the November election, with the ensuing runoff a month later, in plenty of time for all the action of that session. This stands in contrast to his actions in 2005, following the tragic death of State Rep. Joe Moreno, who was killed in an auto accident towards the end of the regular session. Perry called for the special election to replace him in November, despite subsequently calling two special sessions in the interim. What choice do you think he’ll make?

I know it’s distasteful to talk about this while we’re all still grieving the loss of Sen. Gallegos, but I know I’m not saying anything out loud that isn’t being said in private. We may as well be prepared for what is to come.

In the meantime, here are some more tributes to Sen. Gallegos, from Marc Campos, Stace Medellin, State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Lone Star Project, and beneath the fold from SEIU Local 1.

UPDATE: Here’s information on the memorial services in Austin and Houston for Sen. Gallegos.

UPDATE: I clearly misread that Postcards story when I first saw it, and as such it renders my speculation moot. The election will take place earlier than May in the event Sen. Gallegos wins, and that’s what matters. All Democrats in SD06 need to remember that they must still vote for Sen. Gallegos so that they can then choose a proper successor. I apologize for the confusion.

(more…)

Why gay marriage is inevitable

Professor Stephen Klineberg – you know, the fancy movie star – looks at 30 years worth of Houston Area Survey data and sees the future.

The findings from the 31st year of the Kinder Houston Area Survey (1982-2012) will be released this month. The three-decade span of these annual studies offers a rare opportunity to determine the significance of the age differences revealed in the surveys.

When younger and older respondents give different answers in any one year, it is difficult to know if the discrepancies are due to real and lasting contrasts between older and younger perspectives – the generational divides that will shape the future – or whether they reflect instead differences that will fade as the younger folks move further along in their life-cycle trajectory. Were the 20-year-olds who were interviewed in 1992 expressing attitudes and beliefs that are closer to the views of today’s 40-year-olds? Or were they more similar to the 20-year-olds who were interviewed in this year’s study? The 30 years of Houston surveys can answer this question.

[…]

Younger adults in Houston have come of age in a city that is far more ethnically diverse and more supportive of gay rights than it was 20 years or 40 years ago. Have they internalized more tolerant views on these issues in ways that are likely to last into the future? The surveys strongly suggest that the answer is “yes.”

[…]

Half of the respondents born between 1971 and 1990, regardless of their age at the time of the surveys, said that homosexual marriages should be given the same legal status as heterosexual marriages. This was also true for almost half of those born between 1951 and 1970, but for only a third of the respondents born between 1931 and 1950, and just 16 percent of those born before 1930. Support for gay rights has been growing steadily across the years of the surveys, and the generational differences clearly suggest that the trend will continue into the future.

The survey found similar results for a question about whether more immigration would be desirable, which is equally encouraging. The polling numbers are consistent with what we see elsewhere in the country, and it’s good to know that it isn’t just a matter of young versus old but of one generation versus its ancestors. A change is gonna come, y’all. Which is why it was so important for the forces opposing that change to get the Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment added to the state constitution back in 2005, even though gay marriage was already illegal in Texas. Repealing a law just takes a majority. Repealing a constitutional amendment takes a super-majority that may never materialize. As such, I strongly suspect the way that this change comes is via the federal courts, and ultimately the Supreme Court. (Yeah, I know it’s hard to feel optimistic about anything related to this Supreme Court, but change will come to them too, sooner or later.) How long that will take I don’t know, but some day we will all look back on this and wonder what the opponents of marriage equality were thinking.

November was like 2007, December is more like 2005

Here’s the daily report for the first six days of Early Voting in the runoff. There have been 17,568 votes cast so far, with today still to go. That means there have been more early votes cast in Harris County than there were in the entire 2007 runoff, when 11,374 ballots were cast before Runoff Day. Indeed, we had already exceeded that total by the end of Friday’s early voting. So, even though turnout for the November, 2011 election in the City of Houston was nearly identical to turnout from 2007, the December election is looking more like the runoff from 2005. In 2007, there was a grand total of 25,382 votes cast. At the rate we’re going, Early Voting in this runoff may approach that number. A better model may be 2005, with 38,620 votes cast, though I daresay that may be a bit low. There were only 14,233 early votes cast in the 2005 runoff, but early voting was less popular back then.

Given what we’ve seen so far, I’d put the over/under now at about 50,000 votes. The main difference is that in 2007 the one At Large runoff, between now-CM Jolanda Jones and Joe Trevino, was a much more low-profile and low-dollar affair than what we’ve got this time. Jolanda wasn’t Jolanda yet in 2007, if you get what I mean, so that race was almost beneath the radar – the two district runoffs generated more attention. This year we have two At Large runoffs with three of the four candidates raising money and the fourth having a hundred elections’ worth of name recognition, with the two district runoffs generating some heat as well. The 2005 runoff had only one At Large race, between now-CM Sue Lovell and Jay Aiyer, but it had a fair amount of money as well as some controversy. This year we have some familiar names and enough money to raise the bar a bit. It’s still an extreme low turnout race – we’re talking five percent turnout instead of three or four – but clearly there are some gradations in there.

Final early vote total

Early voting ended Friday, with the last day repeating the 2007 pattern of roughly doubling earlier numbers from the week but never taking big jump as was seen in 2005 and 2009. Here’s the final daily EV report from the county, plus the 2009 spreadsheet, the 2007 daily EV report, and the Erik Vidor spreadsheet, and the final comparison chart:

Type 2005 2007 2009 2011 ===================================== In Person 72,370 43,420 71,368 49,669 Absentee 6,215 6,844 9,148 8,676 Total 78,585 50,264 80,516 58,345 09 Pct 97.6% 62.4% 100% 72.5%

Note that my projection of the 2011 EV total was high by about 5,000 votes, which is a direct consequence of following the 2007 pattern instead of acting a bit more like either 2005 or 2009. If the final total for 2011 is 72.5% of the 2009 total, then we should expect 131,703 votes this year, or about four percent more than 2007. Another way to look at it is to project the final total from the early vote total, based on varying assumptions about what share of the final vote has already been cast. That gives us this:

Year Early Total EV Pct ====================================== 2005 81,007 332,154 24.4% 2007 52,476 193,945 27.1% 2009 82,978 257,312 32.1% 2011 60,000 244,898 24.4% 2011 60,000 221,402 27.1% 2011 60,000 186,916 32.1% 2011 60,000 170,940 35.1% 2011 60,000 157,480 38.1%

Remember, the higher EV total is to reflect late-arriving absentee ballots. I added a fifth scenario to accommodate the possibility that we’re seeing an even-numbered year level of EV turnout. Factoring out the non-Houston votes – remember, the Houston share of the Harris County total is historically between 63 and 69 percent – gives a range of 171,429 on the high end (70 percent Houston share of the high end final vote projection) and 94,488 on the low end (60% of the low end projection). Throw in Fort Bend and Montgomery and we round up to a range of 96,000 to 173,000. I continue to believe that we’re seeing a 2007-style year, so I’ll stick with the 131,703 number I derived originally. Obviously, there are plenty of other ways to view the data, and we won’t know till Tuesday. Place your own guess in the comments, and we’ll see who comes the closest.

UPDATE: Here’s Kyle Johnston’s analysis of the final early vote total. Two points of interest: A total of 40,495 votes were City of Houston, which is 69.4% of the overall number. Only 67% of the votes were cast by those who had voted in at least two of the last three city elections, which is considerably less than the total after the first two days. Fifteen percent of the vote came from people who had not voted in any of the last three city elections. I’m not sure what if anything that means, but it’s a bigger number than I would have expected.

Early voting totals, Days 10 and 11

Eleven days of Early Voting down, one to go. Here’s the Early Voting daily report from Day 11, plus the 2009 spreadsheet, the 2007 daily EV report, and the Erik Vidor spreadsheet, and our old friend the comparison chart:

Type 2005 2007 2009 2011 ===================================== In Person 53,161 32,947 54,296 39,110 Absentee 3,618 6,432 7,200 7,769 Total 56,779 39,379 61,496 46,879 09 Pct 92.3% 64.0% 100% 76.2%

The second Thursday is where the 2005 early vote totals took their first big leap forward; they then doubled for the last day, which helped make 2005 the highest turnout year of the three. Turnout in 2007 did not spike until the very last day, while turnout in 2009 jumped up on Tuesday but never advanced beyond that, even on the last day. This year has been more like 2007, in that it has crept upward, but never really jumped. Still, the in person total from the last day in 2007 was about double that of the day before, so if we get that we’ll have about 12,000 in person votes tomorrow. It’s nearly impossible at this point for early voting turnout to be lower than it was in 2007. How that translates to a final total remains to be seen – it’s all a matter of guessing what percentage of the electorate has already voted. I’ll have final EV totals and projections for Tuesday over the weekend.

Early voting totals, Days 8 and 9

Running a little late on these – it’s been that kind of a week – but here are your Early Vote totals through Tuesday, Day 9, plus the 2009 spreadsheet, the 2007 daily EV report, and the Erik Vidor spreadsheet, and the familiar chart:


Type 2005 2007 2009 2011 ===================================== In Person 35,358 23,381 36,890 28,086 Absentee 2,554 4,970 6,078 6,243 Total 37,912 28,351 42,968 34,329 09 Pct 88.2% 66.0% 100% 79.9%

The key thing to note is that in 2009, early vote totals more than doubled from Monday (4022) to Tuesday (8493), then stayed at that higher level through Friday. In 2007, the total votes only grew a little from Monday to Wednesday (4356 to 4896), then took a small jump on Thursday (6132) before topping out at 10,885 on Friday. In 2005, they grew steadily and rapidly, with Thursday and Friday combining for nearly 33,000 votes. This year there were 4588 votes on Monday and 5650 on Tuesday, meaning we could be like 2007 at a slightly higher level or like 2009 with another step up. I’ll report on the Wednesday and Thursday totals when they come in, and will have final totals and predictions for turnout over the weekend. Have you revised your opinion of what this year’s electorate looks like, or are things progressing as you expected?

Early vote totals after one full week

Here’s your early vote tabulation through Sunday, Day Seven, with five days to go. Here also are the 2009 spreadsheet, the 2007 daily EV report, and the Erik Vidor spreadsheet. Here’s the cumulative summary for the first full week:

Type 2005 2007 2009 2011 ===================================== In Person 24,141 15,792 26,662 19,751 Absentee 2,158 3,555 3,801 4,340 Total 26,299 19,347 30,463 24,091 09 Pct 86.3% 63.5% 100% 79.0%

The first thing you may notice is that the share of the 2009 vote total for this year is up considerably from what I reported for the five day totals. There’s a simple reason for this: I screwed up the arithmetic on Saturday, giving the five day total for this year as 15,689 instead of 18,689. The 2009 vote share should have been 81.4%, so it’s actually down a pinch. Among other things, that means all of the projections I gave on Saturday are off. Here are those numbers again, using the seven day totals. First, the share of the final early vote tally after seven days:

Year 7 Day Ev Total EV 5 Day Pct ====================================== 2005 26,299 78,585 33.5% 2007 19,347 50,264 38.5% 2009 30,463 80,516 37.8% 2011 24,091 63,065 38.2%

The projection for this year’s early vote total is up by 8,000 votes as a result of my screwup. I’m assuming that the rate of early voting will be between that of 2007 and 2009, which is to say I’m assuming that this week, when things traditionally pick up, the early vote totals will not skew too far one way or the other. Obviously, that would affect the final EV total if they do. Now let’s re-run the projections of the ultimate totals based on these updated numbers:

Year Early Total EV Pct ====================================== 2005 81,007 332,154 24.4% 2007 52,476 193,945 27.1% 2009 82,978 257,312 32.1% 2011 65,000 266,393 24.4% 2011 65,000 239,852 27.1% 2011 65,000 202,492 32.1% 2011 65,000 185,185 35.1%

I’ve added a fourth scenario here, for the possibility that we’re seeing a higher rate of early voting this year than in previous years. Again, the higher EV total given here reflects the addition of absentee ballots that arrive after Friday. If we now make the same assumption as before that the city vote share will be between 60 and 70 percent of the Harris County vote share, we get a range of 111,111 to 186,475 votes in the city election from Harris County, which we then bump up to 113,000 to 189,000 after adding in Fort Bend and Montgomery. That makes the high end estimate equivalent to the 2005 city vote total, which was elevated that year by the Double Secret Illegal anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment. I don’t see that happening. The low end is about where it was before, and if we throw out the bottom scenario and assume the rate of early voting will be the same as it was in 2009, that yields a Harris County estimate of 121,495, or about 124,000 overall. Which is to say, much like 2007. I still believe that’s the target total, and I still believe we’re going to come in a little higher than that, say 130,000 to 135,000. All of this may change depending on how heavy or light the early voting is this week. My thanks to Ursula in the comments for pointing out my addition error.

Early vote totals, Days Four and Five

Here’s your EV totals for Thursday and Friday, plus the 2009 spreadsheet, the 2007 daily EV report, and the Erik Vidor spreadsheet. And here’s the cumulative summary for the first five days:

Type 2005 2007 2009 2011 ===================================== In Person 15,996 10,767 19,366 14,349 Absentee 1,891 3,555 3,801 4,340 Total 17,887 14,322 22,967 15,689 09 Pct 77.9% 62.4% 100% 68.3%

The relative shares of the 2009 vote is up for the 2005 and 2007 elections, and down a bit for the 2011 election. This is because Friday was relatively busier in the other years than this year.

So with five days’ worth of data, it’s time to start thinking about projections. Here’s how the five day EV totals compared to the final amounts in each of the last three elections:

Year 5 Day Ev Total EV 5 Day Pct ====================================== 2005 17,887 78,585 22.8% 2007 14,322 50,264 28.5% 2009 22,967 80,516 28.5% 2011 15,689 55,001 28.5%

As noted before, the final day EV totals in 2005 were much higher than on other days, thanks in large part to the anti-gay marriage referendum. In a more normal year, it looks like 28.5% of the early vote is cast in the first five days. That gives us a projection of 55,001 early votes for this year.

We then compare the EV totals to the final totals, bearing in mind that this is for all of Harris County. This is how it looked before:

Year Early Total EV Pct ====================================== 2005 81,007 332,154 24.4% 2007 52,476 193,945 27.1% 2009 82,978 257,312 32.1% 2011 57,000 233,606 24.4% 2011 57,000 210,332 27.1% 2011 57,000 177,570 32.1%

The Early totals are higher here because absentee ballots continue to arrive between Friday and Tuesday. In each of the previous three elections, about 2000 or 2500 late absentee ballots came in. I added 2000 to the projected total for this year, then extended it out to a final Harris County tally based on the EV percentage of each previous election. It can be a pretty wide spread, depending on what you believe is the early vote share. Note that these numbers are generally lower than for even-numbered years, which I suspect is related to the older demographic that votes in municipal elections.

Finally, we discount these totals to reflect Houston votes only. In previous elections, the Houston share of the Harris County vote has been between 63 and 69 percent. To simplify things, let’s assume that the low end is 60% and the high end is 70%. Applying those numbers to the high and low vote totals gives a range of 106,542 to 163,524 Harris County votes for the Houston elections. Throw in another 2,500 votes or so from Fort Bend and Montgomery for the final totals, so in round numbers 109,000 to 166,000 total votes. Again, a pretty wide spread, but my guess is the lower end is where the actual mark will be. Let’s adjust my over/under number to 130,000 at this point, which is to say a slight improvement over 2007. Nothing to write home about, but at least it wouldn’t go into the record books as a new low.

Anyway. Here’s the Chron story, which makes the fundamental mis-assumption of comparing the totals to 2009 only. I’ll say again, the model for this election is 2007, and by all indications we’re right on target for that. Have you voted yet?