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League of Women Voters

So where do we stand with handing over voter info to the Trump commission?

The DMN asks the question.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Have state officials turned over Texas voter information to the federal government?

In short, not yet.

A lawsuit by the Texas NAACP and the Texas League of Women Voters has halted the state’s release of that information to the commission after a Travis County district judge granted the groups a temporary restraining order in October. But the state has taken its case to an appeals court, arguing the lower court has no jurisdiction.

The appeals court has given no timeline on when it will rule on the matter, but until then no voter information will be shared with the fraud commission, which agreed in September to halt its request until the jurisdiction question was resolved.

[…]

Justin Levitt, an election law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said it is unclear whether the commission is subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, so Texas should think twice about handing over its voter roll information. But if it’s not subject to that law, the commission may be under other constraints about what information it can request and how it can do so.

“That’s what the federal lawsuits are about. It’s an open question,” said Levitt, who oversaw voting rights battles for the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama.

Until those questions are resolved, Levitt said, there is nothing obligating Texas to turn over the information.

“This is just a request,” he said. “There’s nothing in Texas state law and nothing in federal law that I’m aware of that would force Texas to give the data over.”

See here, here, and here for the background. The lawsuit from which the injunction came was filed in state court, but as noted later in the piece there were federal lawsuits filed as well. And just as I was prepping to queue this post up for publication, this happened.

President Trump signed an executive order late Wednesday disbanding his own election integrity commission after less than eight months, saying he didn’t want to waste taxpayer money fighting with state governments over their voter data.

But the co-chairman of the panel, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, said the investigation into alleged voter fraud would continue — and could pick up speed without the formalities of a commission.

Trump said the commission’s work will now go to the Department of Homeland Security.

“Despite substantial evidence of voter fraud, many states have refused to provide the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity with basic information relevant to its inquiry,” Trump said in a statement through his press secretary. “Rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense, today I signed an executive order to dissolve the commission, and have asked the Department of Homeland Security to review these issues and determine next courses of action,” Trump said.

Good riddance, I say, though it sounds like we’re not quite out of the woods yet. Keep up the good fight against this travesty. Think Progress, Daily Kos, and Mother Jones have more.

LWV to look at Harris County election security

I look forward to seeing their results.

The League of Women Voters of the Houston Area plans to study the cybersecurity of Harris County’s election system, but the non-partisan group may not be able to gather all the information it wants.

The League, working with the non-profit civic-tech activist group Sketch City, hopes to finish the study and release recommendations by May 2018.

During an organizational meeting [last] Tuesday night at the Leonel Castillo Community Center, Sketch City founder Jeff Reichman said the group had received early cooperation from both the Harris County Clerk’s office, which administers elections, and the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector, which handles voter registration.

Reichman said the group wants to study all aspects of the election process, which uses Hart InterCivic eSlate voting machines that are about 15 years old. He said they want to look into the documented vulnerabilities of the machines; how easily computers involved in the election can be physically accessed both in storage and while in use in elections; and what the procurement process is for buying new machines.

“We want to look into the best practices that anyone with access to sensitive information should follow,” Reichman said during Tuesday’s meeting.

There’s been a lot of debate about the security of our election systems, locally and nationally. Less discussed is the fact that our voting system is just old, at least in technological terms. The eSlate made its debut in Texas in the 2000 election and has been in use in Harris County since 2002, which is five years before the debut of the iPhone. One would think there have been some advances in the engineering since then. As such, even without this particular elephant in the room, we have needed to be thinking about what comes next for some time. If this is even a small step in that direction, I’m glad to see it. I’m not sure what it would take otherwise.

SOS halted from handing over voter info

Good.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A Texas district judge has issued a temporary restraining order preventing Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos from handing voter information to President Donald Trump’s voter fraud investigation commission.

The order, which came out Tuesday, adds Texas to a growing list of states not complying with the president’s investigation into the 2016 elections, which Trump says suffered from large-scale voter fraud.

Judge Tim Sulak of the Austin-based 353rd Texas Civil District Court issued the order in response to a lawsuit filed July 20 by the League of Women Voters of Texas, its former president Ruthann Geer and the Texas NAACP against Pablos and Keith Ingram, the Texas Elections Division director in the the secretary of state’s office. The lawsuit seeks to stop the state from handing over voter data from the state’s computerized voter registration files to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The suit argues that doing so would reveal voters’ personal information, “which may be used to solicit, harass, or otherwise infringe upon the privacy of Texas voters.”

[…]

The League’s current president, Elaine Wiant, said the organization is especially concerned that releasing the data could make millions of voters’ personal information public, making it vulnerable to commercial use. Texas law forbids public voter information from being used commercially, but with the presidential commission, Wiant said “there is no guarantee how it will get used.” Wiant also said the League is concerned that releasing the data would make voters’ birthdates public.

“In today’s world, that is just way too much information to be made available to the public,” Wiant said. “There are serious security concerns.”

The order, which expires Oct. 17 or with further order from the court, says that handing over voter information could cause “irreparable” injury. Without “appropriate safeguards,” the order argues, the data is likely to become public, potentially violating voters’ privacy rights, their interests in “avoiding commercial solicitation, chilling of their First Amendment rights, and the diminution of their efforts to encourage voting.”

See here and here for the background. There will be a hearing on the 16th, at which time this will presumably be extended or rescinded. In the meantime, the Trump commission has other legal problems to worry about. Let’s hope this is the end of it in Texas.

Lawsuit filed over giving voter data to bogus Trump commission

I missed this last week.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The League of Women Voters of Texas and the Texas NAACP said Thursday they have sued Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos over plans to release voter information to President Donald Trump’s election commission.

Texas law requires that safeguards be met to ensure such data isn’t used improperly, the groups said, and they must be followed before any data is sent to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity.

“The Secretary of State should strictly follow state law if he releases any voter information to the Commission,” Elaine Wiant, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, said in a news release. “Releasing personal information could result in identity theft, causing great harm to Texas voters. Further, we fear that the Commission’s goal is voter suppression, not voter participation.”

See here for the background. This is separate from the open records request made by the ACLU of Texas. The suit was filed in state court in Travis County, and it alleges that the request violates Texas election statutes. . You can see the complaint here – it’s a bit dense for me, so I’ll leave it to the lawyers to offer an opinion. It’s fine by me if these plaintiffs succeed in getting an injunction, and as noted by the Brennan Center, Texas is not the only state where such a lawsuit has been filed. We’ll see how it goes – among other things, I’ll be very interested to see how the state responds to this. How hard will they fight for this if a judge puts a halt to it? It’s not clear to me that it’s in the Republican leadership’s best political interests to go balls to the wall on this one.

Ballot order drawn

vote-button

Here is the official ballot order for City of Houston candidates this November, via Chron reporter Mike Morris on Twitter. You’re all familiar with my rant about ballot order by now – we have electronic voting machines, they should simply randomize the ballot order for each voter – so I’ll just skip it and move on. Whether anyone’s ballot position ultimately makes a difference or not – I sure hope it doesn’t, but I wouldn’t bet on it – we’ll have to wait and see. All I know is that in any field with more than four candidates, I’d rather be first or last than anywhere in between.

This would be a short entry if this were all I had to say, so in the interest of filling out a proper length, here are two announcements about candidate forums. On Monday, Mental Health America of Greater Houston is hosting a Mayoral forum on behavioral health, a topic I’m willing to bet you haven’t heard much about in this election. The Houston Police Department has one of the only Mental Health Divisions in the entire country, so this is an issue that needs some public discussion. MHA of Greater Houston, NAMI of Greater Houston, the Council on Recovery, and the Houston Recovery Initiative are partnered for this event. That’s this Monday, August 31, at 6:30 PM at the University of St. Thomas, Jones Hall, 3910 Yoakum – see here for details.

Want a forum for candidates other than Mayoral candidates? On Thursday, September 3, you can attend a forum on environmental issues for At Large Council candidates, brought to you by the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, League of Women Voters of Houston, and over 20 cosponsors representing environmental organizations in the Houston region, including Hermann Park Conservancy. The event is at 6 PM at the Cherie Flores Pavilion in Hermann Park, and it will be moderated by yours truly. It’s free and open to the public – see here for details. Don’t leave me hanging, come on out and hear what the candidates have to say.

Point/counterpoint on online voter registration

Point.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texans can use www.Texas.gov for nearly 1,000 services, such as applying for concealed handgun licenses and driver records, and renewing driver licenses, vehicle registrations and many state-required professional licenses. It is time to allow Texans to use this proven, secure online portal to register voters.

Online voter registration does not allow online voting. Under the process that has been proposed for our state, Texans with a current Texas drivers license or Department of Public Safety-issued photo ID could electronically register to vote so long as the license and three other identification measures authenticate them to do so.

[…]

The National Council of State Legislatures calls online voter registration a truly bipartisan election issue. A 2014 Pew study reports states have not seen any change in the balance of party affiliation of registered voters following the introduction of online voter registration. States also report no security breaches or voter impersonation. The study further finds online registration applications five times more accurate than paper applications.

The three Texas agencies – Secretary of State’s office, DPS and Department of Information Resources – that would execute online voter registration are confident in their ability. Their representatives testified that registering voters online can work in Texas.

Department of Information Resources Executive Director Todd Kimbriel told the House Elections Committee that the state-contracted Texas.gov vendor processes more than $2 billion in annual payments from taxpayers. Since initiation in 2001, Kimbriel told lawmakers, there have been no security breaches.

An existing Texas.gov platform for voter registration is already in place, used to update residential addresses when a voter moves within a county. To initiate registration online, a person would be required to possess a valid Texas driver license or DPS ID that can only be obtained in person.

More than 60 percent of Texans polled in 2014 favor registering voters online. State Reps. Celia Israel, D-Austin and Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, bill authors, agree it’s an opportunity to work together to make our voter registration system more efficient, accurate and cost-effective.

That was written by Elaine Wiant, the president of the League of Women Voters of Texas. The arguments are familiar, and I at least think they’re pretty persuasive.

And counterpoint:

Proponents of online voter registration point out 20 states currently have such systems in place. But that means that 30 states do not. They also point out cost savings with online registration but cannot accurately identify what those would be in Texas.

[…]

The current voter registration system in Texas works and works well. Virtually no case has come to light of someone wanting to register within the applicable deadlines and being unable to do so.

Those who wish to register can exercise several options. Eligible citizens may register at the Texas Department of Public Safety, many social service organizations, local libraries, post offices and any of the 16 Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector’s branch offices. Potential voters also may print an application from many websites to be completed, signed and mailed.

The Voter Registrar’s experienced and nonpartisan professionals cross check data to ensure accuracy of each application. Officials code voters for the proper voting precinct, verify the data submitted and mail out a voter certificate. This both protects the registration process and provides new voters with relevant information, including the voter’s eligible jurisdictions.

During the most recent federal election, the state’s election management system temporarily shut down on Election Day, almost crippling local voter activity. The Secretary of State’s office is scheduled to undergo a major software upgrade this year. This is long overdue but full of unknowns. It would be very risky to implement a new system for online voter registration with this pending upgrade, especially leading into a presidential election.

That of course is from Harris County Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan, who as we know opposed the bill to enable online voter registration. His arguments are familiar as well, and until that last paragraph above, not terribly persuasive to me. The one part of his case that I do find effective is the reminder about the state’s website problems last November. Add that to the problems that DPS had with the One Sticker rollout, and one can understand why someone like Sullivan might be skeptical about this kind of bill and any assurance from DPS and/or the SOS that they can handle it. That may be a reasonable justification for delaying this implementation, but not for not doing it at all. Just because something works well enough doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be improved. Online voter registration should be the goal, and whatever needs to be done to make it feasible in the next session should be on the to do list. Let’s not have the same debate in 2017.

Endorsement watch: Three out of five ain’t bad

The five major papers have made their endorsements in the Governor’s race now. We know about the DMN and their strange belief that it is possible to placate the extremists, so let’s look at the others, starting with the Houston Chronicle:

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

The election in November should not be about abortion or gay marriage or any of the other hot-button issues that campaigns use to ignite the base. It should be about finding a leader with vision and foresight, one who’s willing to tackle tough issues too long ignored. We believe that person is Wendy Davis.

The Republican candidate, Attorney General Greg Abbott, 56, has run a strong campaign, but our fear is that, essentially, he will perpetuate the Perry era, with its fealty to the hard-right social conservative wing of his party.

His Democratic opponent, we believe, will do everything possible to sustain the state’s impressive economic growth, but she also will seek to broaden the state’s focus. We’re confident she’ll work to assure that every Texan has an opportunity to share in the state’s prosperity. And, with Republicans still in the majority in the Legislature, she will have no choice but to reach out to the other side in ways that Abbott is less likely to do.

[…]

If we can’t find leaders willing to engage the hard issues, willing to invest in the state’s future, we’re likely to fall farther behind. Given this prosperous moment in our state’s history, what better time than now to begin living up to our potential? Davis, we believe, will give it a shot.

Whether a Gov. Wendy Davis could get anything done in a state still dominated by a Republican Party fiercely fighting a rear-guard action against social, economic and political change is a question we can’t answer. As a Democrat in this fervid-red state, she faces an uphill battle, to be sure. And yet, there are pivotal moments in political history where the focus shifts and the people decide that enough’s enough. As a senator, Wendy Davis had the courage and strength on more than one occasion not to back down. With challenging times ahead, those same qualities are what we need to lead the state.

After the editorial board wagged a finger at Davis for the wheelchair ad, I was afraid they might endorse Abbott out of petulance. Glad to see I was wrong about that. The Chron also endorsed Republicans for Land Commissioner and Ag Commissioner, so they recommended Dems for the top four offices, and Republicans elsewhere. Which, as I suggested before, might have been a bridge too far for the DMN. Good on you, Chronicle.

The Chron was joined by two other papers in recommending Davis. First up is their sister publication, the Express News.

Texas is in need of decisive leadership that will look at lingering problems in new ways. It’s in need of leadership different from the kind the state has had for much of the last 14 years under Gov. Rick Perry.

Something different than: federal government as boogeyman; responsible regulation of Texas resources and its environment deemed anti-business; international border as threat; raising the minimum wage as anti-jobs; and the notion that public education isn’t in dire need of immediate additional investment.

Because she is simply more on target with solutions to the state’s problems, we recommend Wendy Davis to be Texas’ next governor.

And there’s this: Beyond Texas’ very real infrastructure and funding problems, there’s also need for a fresh look at the state’s notions of fairness.

No, it’s not OK for the state to meddle in who Texans choose to marry on the matter of gay marriage. Nor is it acceptable to get between women and their doctors on abortion.

It is not fair to discriminate against minority voters via voter ID at the ballot box. Or in redistricting to maintain GOP political dominance.

Abbott, defending the state on these cases, has said he is obligated as attorney general to defend Texas laws. But we have not heard anything from the candidate to suggest that his personal views differ from those he espouses as the state’s top lawyer.

There is, of course, a pretty simple explanation for that. I mean, I’m not the only one who remembers that Greg Abbott hired Ted Cruz to be his main litigator, am I? The E-N seems to have a solid grasp of that, so kudos to them as well. With their Friday endorsement of Leticia Van de Putte for Lite Gov – as strong a recommendation as you’ll find, do yourself a favor and read it – the E-N also goes for a full measure of change at the top. They are also the only paper of which I am aware to pick a Dem for one of the lower offices, when they endorsed Steve Brown for Railroad Commissioner.

The other paper to make the right call is the Statesman.

On Nov. 4, Texans will elect a new governor for the first time in 14 years. We think that new governor should be Democrat Wendy Davis.

Davis and her Republican opponent, long-serving Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, offer voters sharp, competing visions for the state’s future. Davis’ positions on education, health care and economic fairness make her the best candidate to meet the looming challenges unparalleled growth has brought the state.

[…]

Abbott’s response when we asked whether he also would veto an attempt to repeal the in-state tuition law was a lawyerly attempt at triangulation. He talked about favoring the law’s concept but said he found the law flawed in its current form and in need of a rewrite.

Abbott, 56, expressed concern that his party’s xenophobic rhetoric on immigration will put off Hispanic voters, whose values he considers consistent with Republican values. He told us he wants to set a tone and vision of inclusion as governor.

The trouble is, Abbott has positioned himself on the tea party end of the Republican spectrum the past several years. So despite producing an admirably detailed policy plan, we’re not confident he is the same candidate we have supported in previous elections.

There was a time we could have assumed Abbott would moderate his party’s worst tendencies on illegal immigration, abortion, same-sex marriage, school choice and other issues, but no more. And recent decisions by his office protecting the source of the state’s execution drugs and clouding information about businesses that store ammonium nitrate and other dangerous chemicals have raised doubts whether he remains an unfailing advocate of open government.

Abbott famously has joked that his typical workday involves going to the office, suing President Barack Obama and the federal government, and going home. Whatever the legal merits of some of Abbott’s lawsuits, he has treated taking on the Obama administration as a game in which political points are scored. The lawsuits symbolize our growing doubts about Abbott.

Good to see them detail the case against Abbott so succinctly. I never cease to be amazed by an editorial board’s willingness to support a candidate they don’t like or used to like on the delusion that said candidate will suddenly stop doing all the things they don’t like once the election is over. You are what your record says you are, in football and in politics. Kudos to the Statesman for recognizing it.

Texas Politics rounds up some other papers’ endorsements. Sam Houston gets a clean sweep, with the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal being the only paper to endorse either Dan Patrick or Glen Hegar.

I figured early on that the endorsements for Governor would be split, and indeed they were. Joining the DMN in going the other way was the Star-Telegram, which made a mostly honest case for Greg Abbott before pulling up short and repeating the DMN’s mistake at the end.

In Davis, Abbott faces a formidable opponent.

A savvy politician with a compelling personal story — despite her campaign’s early stumbles over her biography — she earned a solid reputation in Fort Worth before she rocketed to stardom with her now-famous 2013 filibuster on abortion. During her six years representing District 10 in the Texas Senate, and nine years on the City Council, Davis has served this community well.

As a state legislator, she lead the effort to restore billions of dollars in education funding cut during the 2011 session.

As governor, she proposes a lofty education plan that would expand the state’s pre-K program, increase teacher salaries and expand early college opportunities. But she has declined to put a pricetag on her plan, calling in question its potential viability.

During her time in Austin, she developed a reputation for consensus building, teaming up with Republicans as far afield as Rep. Jonathan Stickland. As a member of the minority party, such collaboration was essential to her political success.

But despite Davis’ history of building bridges in both city and state government, she has run a campaign that is surprisingly divisive and isolating.

We worry that Davis would struggle to effectively represent and serve a state that is still overwhelmingly right of center, without further alienating her party and inciting her opponents.

Yes, we mustn’t actively oppose the wingnuts, as it only encourages them. The Observer has the definitive word on this.

What would a Gov. Davis look like? Well, she would probably have little influence over the Legislature. Assume Davis wins and so does Patrick—Davis would be able to get hardly any of her legislative priorities through. Patrick would be preparing to run against her in 2018, and his Senate would kill or mangle almost anything that bore her personal stamp. But Davis would have a veto which would prevent Patrick’s worst bills and initiatives from getting through.

But the Morning News endorsement anticipates something worse—that the conservative Legislature seizes the levers of state government and goes to war against Davis, refuses to budge on any issue, refuses to put together a budget, refuses to consider new and important legislation, until its demands are met and Davis effectively surrenders. In effect, if the people of the state elect Davis to lead them, conservatives in the Legislature—probably led by Patrick—will take Texas hostage.

So the Morning News’ instinct is to reward the hostage-taker, pay the ransom, and keep the state safely gripped by one-party rule. On the one hand, it feels like a pretty bleak misperception of how small-r republican government is supposed to work. It’s especially odd because the endorsement urges Abbott to be “a moderating influence” for his party—a bit like a liberal urging his radical-left friends to “work inside the system.”

It seems probable that Patrick will be the dominant figure of the 2015 legislative session, not Abbott. It would be very difficult to make the case that a Gov. Abbott will be better at containing Patrick than a Gov. Davis, with a veto stamp and a reason to oppose him openly. It seems like extraordinarily wishful thinking to hope Abbott will turn out to be the state’s version of a Rockefeller Republican.

About as wishful as hoping Sen. Ted Cruz will morph into the second coming of Kay Bailey Hutchison. “Don’t reward the hostage-takers” continues to be sound advice.

Finally, I meant to mention this yesterday, but the League of Women Voters 2014 Guide is now available. Read up and learn, or learn more, about the candidates on your ballot.

UPDATE: Here’s a complete rundown of all Chronicle endorsements, including several races for which they have not yet published the accompanying editorial.

We need more mobile ID stations

From the inbox, from the League of Women Voters.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF TEXAS CALLS ON SECRETARY OF STATE TO EXPAND AND IMPROVE EFFORTS TO PROVIDE ELECTION IDENTIFICATION CERTIFICATES

AUSTIN, TX – “We are deeply concerned that eligible voters could be disenfranchised this November and we urge the Secretary of State to expand her efforts to provide Election Identification Certificates to voters who need them,” according to Elaine Wiant, President of the League of Women Voters of Texas.”

The League of Women Voters of Texas along with Public Citizen, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund and Texas Freedom Network Education today called on the Secretary of State, Nandita Berry to expand the 2013 efforts to provide EICs to voters who need them.

The League and its partners recommend that the State provide mobile ID stations in each of the major metropolitan areas (Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, McAllen and San Antonio) for at least seven days, including at least two weekend days, between now and Election Day. Additional locations outside of the major metropolitan areas including rural communities should also be provided to adequately respond to the needs of Texas voters.

In order to make the mobile ID stations accessible to those without the required IDs, we recommend that weekend and non-traditional work hours such as evenings be emphasized in all communities. The groups asked that the dates and locations of the mobile ID stations be set at least 21 days in advance, in order to give individuals sufficient time to obtain the underlying documentation required, such as birth certificates, to obtain EICs.

According to Wiant, “Local leaders are best positioned to identify the communities with the greatest need for this service and the places that community members can most easily access. Therefore, we ask that the Secretary ask local leaders for recommendations for selecting locations for the mobile ID stations.”

The State had previously estimated that a substantial number of registered Texas voters-between 600,000 and 800,000-lack an approved form of photo ID. The data provided to the United States Department of Justice as of September 2011 and January 2012 show that minority communities could be disparately impacted. In addition, a federal court found that “a substantial subgroup of Texas voters, many of whom are African American or Hispanic, lack photo ID” and that the “burdens associated with obtaining ID” will weigh most heavily upon the State’s racial minorities. Young people ages 18 to 24 and the elderly are also believed to be among those who are more likely than the general population to not have an approved form of photo ID.

The November 2014 election is the first major election under the Texas photo ID requirement. To be accepted, the ID must be current or expired no more than 60 days, and be one of the following:
Texas driver’s license, personal ID card, concealed carry license, or election identification certificate, or

  • United States passport, military ID, citizenship or naturalization certificate
  • Photo IDS that cannot be accepted at the polls include out-of-state driver’s licenses, employer IDs, and school IDs.

An exact match between the name on the photo ID and the list of registered voters is not required to be accepted to vote a regular ballot. If names don’t match, additional information will be considered in accepting the voter. Voters without acceptable ID will be able to vote a provisional ballot and provide ID within 6 days of the election.

An Election Identification Certificate can be obtained by voters without one of the other acceptable IDs by providing proof of citizenship and identity at Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) offices.

Battleground Texas, which has joined the call for more mobile ID stations, put out this helpful backgrounder on the issue. That state estimate of 600,000 to 800,000 voters who lack ID is the low end – up to 1.2 million registered voters may lack the accepted forms of ID, and black and Latino voters are far more likely to be in that bucket than white voters. The state of Texas and Greg Abbott in his role as its attorney have claimed repeatedly that there was nothing discriminatory or suppressionist about the voter ID law. Doing their best to ensure that all eligible voters who lack ID can get it would be a step in the direction of backing up those claims.

Three days of early voting in SD06

I’m not sure that the Chron’s classification of early voting so far in SD06 is accurate, but I’m not sure how I myself would characterize it since we have so few precedents to draw on.

Three days into early voting, the race to replace the late state Sen. Mario Gallegos continues to heat up, as does the balloting.

The first large batch of mail-in ballots was returned Friday, outpacing voters who visited the polls in person. Since early voting began, 1,561 ballots have been cast, two thirds of them in person. More votes were recorded Friday, 805, than in the two preceding days, 756.

Early voting continues through Jan. 22. Election Day is Jan. 26.

You can see the EV totals so far here. As noted, the difference was the arrival of mail ballots on Friday. 451 absentee ballots were received on Friday, which is more than the in-person total on any of the three days so far. I expect early voting to pick up as it always does, and every day of EV is from 7 to 7 except for next Sunday, which should be a boost as well, but I also expect that more than half the total ballots will be cast early. It sure would be nice to see some bigger daily numbers going forward.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones describes the relatively late date as “a strategic delay” on the part of Gov. Rick Perry and his fellow Republicans, who realize that the likely winner will be one of the Democratic candidates.

“Under the Senate’s two-thirds rule, until the new SD-6 senator arrives, the Republicans need to convince only one Democrat to vote with them to pass legislation, whereas once Alvarado or Garcia arrives in Austin, they will need two,” he said in an email.

On most legislation the difference is irrelevant, Jones said, but not on such controversial issues as the fetal pain bill, for example.

“With only 30 senators, the Republicans will need to tailor the final legislation to obtain the backing of only one of the handful of pro-life Democrats, not two of them,” he said. “The result will, quite possibly, be legislation that is closer to the Republican ideal than would have been the case if the support of both was required.”

There are three “pro-life” Dems in the Senate – Eddie Lucio, Carlos Uresti, and Judith Zaffirini – and it took all three of their votes to let the awful sonogram bill through. That was because Republican Jeff Wentworth joined the other nine Dems in opposing it, but he was ousted in favor of the wingnut Donna Campbell in last year’s GOP primary, so as noted once the new Senator is seated the GOP will only need two defections to overcome the two-thirds rule for further atrocities. Until then, one is enough.

For those of you still making up your minds about whom to support, the League of Women Voters Houston is here to help:

The League of Women Voters of Houston Education Fund is pleased to announce that the full two-hour Conversations with the Candidates telecast covering the Texas State Senate District 6 Special Election is now available for viewing on demand.

The Conversations program was originally telecast live on Thursday, January 10, 2013 on the channels of Houston MediaSource TV (Comcast Channel 17, ATT Uverse Channel 99 or livestreamed at www.hmstv.org, and will be re-telecast on:

Monday           1/21/13            3:00 pm

Tuesday          1/22/13            8:00 am

Tuesday          1/22/13            4:30 pm

Wednesday     1/23/13             2:30 pm

Thursday         1/24/13            4:30 pm

Friday             1/25/13            8:00 am

All eight declared candidates were invited to attend.  The seven who participated, in order of appearance, were:  Sylvia Garcia, Carol Alvarado, Maria Selva, Joaquin Martinez, Rudy Reyes, R. W. Bray and Dorothy Olmos.

The unique “candidate conveyor belt” format allowed each candidate the opportunity to explain his or her philosophy of governance and positions on selected issues.  Each candidate separately, in an order determined by drawing numbers, sat at a round table and participated in a friendly conversation with two League officials.

Members of the media are welcome to use Conversations material in their reports, and are encouraged to offer the public viewing opportunities via websites, social media or other vectors.  However, we ask that the program be made available in its entirety and without edits.  Our on-demand viewing page notes the order of candidate appearance for those who wish to scroll through to watch particular segments.

There have been numerous candidate forums as well, including one on Friday that was boycotted by Green Party candidate Maria Selva because it was sponsored by TransCanada, the company constructing the Keystone XL pipeline. From her press release, which you can see here:

“Tar sands refining will increase toxic air pollution along the Houston Ship Channel, negatively impacting the health of the people in District 6. The whole tar sands operation from mining to refining drastically increases carbon dioxide emissions which contribute to global warming and climate change, and is at odds with the push for clean, safe energy that is one of the principal goals of my campaign,” Selva said.

“This controversial firm [TransCanada] that Houstonians and Texans have been fighting to keep out of the state should not have inappropriate influence over the candidates by sponsoring a debate among candidates who would make decisions affecting it,” said Selva.

“Candidates who seek to represent the citizens of Texas Senate district 6 should not be attending events sponsored by corporations that will poison the air of the people they claim to want to represent. We need to keep money out of politics, and that starts with removing money and inappropriate influence from the decision-making process of citizens.”

I realize that opinions tend to differ about this sort of tactic, but I personally think it’s more effective in general for a candidate to participate in an event where she has issues like this with a sponsor and tell everyone in attendance at her turn to speak exactly how she feels. It’s almost certainly the case that the vast majority of attendees have no idea about any of this, and as such you have the opportunity to inform them. A press release is easy to ignore, assuming you ever knew of its existence in the first place. Someone telling you something to your face isn’t. Just my opinion.

And while I’m on the subject, I really have no idea what if any role the state government has in this. I know the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is a federal matter. You know who would be in an excellent position to educate ignoramuses such as myself about what the state government can do to affect or prevent the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline? Someone who’s running for a state government office, like Maria Selva, that’s who. Yet on her campaign website, her Facebook page, and this article about a protest in which she was quoted, I have learned nothing more about the Keystone XL pipeline than the fact that Maria Selva opposes it, which I already knew. Look, there are more starting quarterbacks in the NFL than there are members of the Texas Senate. There are very few people in Texas who can affect what happens in Texas more than the 31 Senators. What exactly would Maria Selva do as one of these uniquely powerful people to put her beliefs into action? Is there some bill she would introduce, or try to block, or some existing law she would seek to repeal? Is there a hearing she could hold, or some official she would seek to influence? I can only speculate because Maria Selva has not provided that information anywhere I can find, and she declined a golden opportunity to inform an audience that would have been well served to hear it.

As you know, I interview a lot of candidates, and I generally don’t press them to be this specific about the process. Usually, just knowing what their principles are, and whether they support or oppose something that’s already out there, is sufficient. This is one of those times where it isn’t, for two reasons. One, as I just said, is because it’s not clear how the elected office in question is relevant to the candidate’s belief and the action she would like to take. If the main thing that will happen when you get elected is that you’ll go from a protester/activist to a protester/activist with an honorific, I’m not sure you’re making the best case for your candidacy or the best use of the political process. Second, if one of your complaints as a “third party” or “fringe” candidate is that you get no respect from the establishment, by which I mean the media and the various actors in the political process, and that your views never get a fair hearing, I say it’s on you to make it clear what is being missed by your exclusion. Show me how your perspective that doesn’t neatly fit into a two-party system would bring something new and needed to the table. If I were to ask Carol Alvarado or Sylvia Garcia – or RW Bray, for that matter – about Keystone, I’d expect them to say something like “That’s a federal matter”, and I’d find that to be an acceptable answer. Maria Selva had the chance to demonstrate why that isn’t an acceptable answer, but she didn’t take it. Further, from what I can tell it’s not clear that she could demonstrate that.

Putting this another way, if I still lived in SD06 I almost certainly wouldn’t vote for Maria Selva regardless, because I think Alvarado and Garcia are the two best candidates in the race. But if Maria Selva could articulate a way for a Senator to take on this issue – or any other, for that matter, especially one that isn’t being addressed by other candidates – and it made sense to me, I would at the very least press the candidates I would consider voting for to take a position on it. You want someone to listen to you, give them a reason to listen. I don’t think I’m asking for too much here.

Women’s Equality Day celebration

This seems like something we could all use right about now:

The League of Women Voters of Houston Education Fund today announces Rising Stars of 2012, men and women who have made important contributions to the Houston community and whose work will continue to call forth a bright and hopeful future.

Rising Stars will be recognized at the League’s annual Women’s Equality Day Commemoration on Wednesday., Aug. 22, 2012, from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at the historic Julia Ideson Library. Mayor Annise Parker and Ms. Kathy Hubbard serve as honorary co-chairs.

The event celebrates the 92nd anniversary of the 19th Constitutional Amendment, the amendment that gave American Women the right to vote.

The reception will also feature a salute to four notable Houstonians, premier communicators who set the stage for lively and learned conversation in the modern public square: Mary Benton (KPRC-TV), Ernie Manouse (PBS Channel 8), Grace Olivares (Univision 45) and Mark Pirtle (Houston MediaSource TV). The winner of the Carrie Chapman Catt award for emerging leaders will also be announced.

“It is endlessly astonishing to me,” said LWV-Houston President Linda Cohn, “that there are so many people alive today – including my own mother – who were born into an America where women could not vote. One small tick on the national timeline separates us from an indignity our children cannot even imagine. Let’s take a moment to honor suffragists like Miss Julia Ideson. Let this new generation of Rising Stars take courage from their achievements and remember that an informed and active citizenry remains the proven path to good government and a good life for every American.”

See here for the list of Rising Stars, and here for information on tickets. I am unfortunately unable to attend, but I hope you can. The LWV does good work, and it’s going to have its hands full this fall.

Christina Gorczynski – Mission Possible: Youth Engagement

The following is from a series of guest posts that I will be presenting over the next few weeks.

Christina Gorczynski

Ask the League of Women Voters to do a guest blog and what do you get? Brace yourself, readers, for a civic engagement pep talk.

The year was 1920. The National American Woman Suffrage Association had chalked up victory: the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution was adopted and women at last won the right to vote. The next step? Morph that Suffrage Association into a League of Women Voters and work in communities all over the country to teach a brand-new voting population about the candidates and the issues with the goal of encouraging voters to cast an informed ballot. It’s been nine-two years and we’re still at it. Because it still works.

Presently, the League is engaging youth voters and we need your help. If you’re between the ages of 18 to 25 and you’re reading this you’re politically engaged, and that’s especially significant because half of your contemporaries are not. Though many are not politically active, according to statistics, they are civically-engaged, which provides you an opportunity to draw them into the political process. More individuals between the ages of 18 to 25 volunteer in their communities, share opinions about politics and contact their elected officials than actually vote. They are interested and clearly care about their communities.

Young people volunteer for youth, civic/neighborhood, issue-specific and faith-based organizations at a much higher rate than they vote, participate in elections or volunteer for political campaigns/organizations. They have not made the connections between issues, elections, laws and policies and they are waiting for invitations and role models.

According to research, the young people who do get involved with politics are trying to solve a particular social issue and they are highly likely to be involved because someone invited them to participate. They are likely to stay involved if they have role models who teach them how to engage in democracy, and you are those role models. Our system is counting on you to educate your peers, so consider this article as my personal invitation to you.

If you want to engage young people, the first step is meeting them where they are. Volunteer for a youth-based organization. Step out of the political field to coach youth sports, participate in a mentoring program, judge a high school debate contest, sponsor a scout troop or teach a class at your place of worship. Invite them to make civic life part of their life. Better yet, come volunteer for the League of Women Voters to visit high schools with me.

When you engage in face-to-face, peer-to-peer communication with young people on their turf, you have the power to make an impact and the next step is registering them to vote. Tell young people that their opinions matter and that they have ideas that can resolve social problems. Assume that they are not registered, and know that once registered, they become more likely to vote and more likely to pay attention to your calls to action.

As far as calls to action, I will provide you with suggestions and encourage you use your own best instincts. Rock The Vote produced this excellent resource for candidates and campaigns regarding youth engagement which encourages asking new voters to make a pledge to vote. The advice seems sound and they provide statistics on effectiveness.

My personal favorite call to action is to tell them to contact their elected officials to provide feedback and ask questions. I walk them through the process of figuring out who represents them in Washington, Austin, and Houston. Next, I provide them with the League of Women

Voters of Houston Directory of Elected Officials which is a list of contact information for every official who represents the people of Harris County. You can also encourage them to interact with candidates, political groups and elected officials on Facebook and Twitter.

Be prepared to hear that one vote doesn’t matter. Be prepared to hear that whole elections don’t matter. Don’t buy any of it. Remember that elections are the way we make decisions; that they’re the way we extend what’s right and fix what’s wrong and get on with the business of creating happiness and prosperity. You are part of our national conversation and make America the place we want it to be.

And remember that the League of Women Voters is here to help.

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Christina Canales Gorczynski is the Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Houston. You can contact Christina via email director@lwvhouston.org and via Twitter http://twitter.com/LWVHouston.
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The League of Women Voters of the Houston Area is a nonpartisan political organization which works to promote civic responsibility through informed and active participation in government.
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Thank you to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University for the extensive research in the field of youth engagement. Thank you also to Rock the Vote and Texas League of Young Voters for their work to register young people.

Some useful stuff from the LWV

Here, from the League of Women Voters Houston are a couple of useful documents for you: the Handy Dandy 2012 Primary Guide and the 2012 Directory of Elected Officials. It’s true that you could find this stuff for yourself online, but it’s nice to have it all in one convenient – and easy to print, if you’re into that sort of thing or know someone who is – location. This has been such a strange year that even I am having a hard time getting into “it’s almost time to vote!” mode, but early voting will be upon us before you know it. I expect they’ll have a voter’s guide out in a couple of weeks as well. Check ’em out and pass them along to the people who are always asking you for information about who represents them and when they’re supposed to vote.

League of Women Voters Houston 2011 Guide

For your perusal, in a printer-friendly format. (The Spanish language guide is here. It contains information about voter registration laws and the Constitutional amendments, and a brief Q&A with candidates from all the Houston races, including HISD and HCC. The League has also done numerous candidate forums for this cycle, all of which were recorded and can be seen on Vimeo – a complete archive of their forum videos is here. Early voting starts today, so take advantage of their hard work and catch up on any race you want to know more about.

League of Women Voters candidate debates

The League of Women Voters of Houston Education Fund will hold a series of debates for candidates running for Council and Mayor, starting this evening. From their press release:

The League of Women Voters of Houston Education Fund is pleased to announce that we will sponsor a comprehensive series of one-hour Candidate Debates covering all contested municipal election races on the November 2011 General Election ballot. All declared candidates were invited to participate in their respective debates; some may choose not to attend.

We are committed to providing our community with helpful resources that will encourage an informed choice on Election Day and we believe that the Municipal Candidate Debate Series is an important element of this outreach.

The Municipal Candidates Debates Series will be telecast live from the studios of Houston MediaSource TV on Thursday evenings starting on September 8. The programs may be viewed on the Houston MediaSource TV website (www.hmstv.org), on Comcast Channel 17 or on AT&T Uverse Channel 99. There is no studio audience for the debate. However, members of the media are cordially invited to watch the debates from a remote viewing area within the Houston MediaSource Building (410 Roberts Street).

Ernie Manouse will serve as moderator for all debates. Mr. Manouse, a three-time Emmy winner, hosts the popular “InnerVIEWS with Ernie Manouse” series broadcast locally on Houston PBS.

Just so you know, I was one of the people that Manouse asked to submit questions that may be used during the debate. Fame and fortune will follow shortly, I’m sure. Here’s the full schedule of the debates:

September 8 Houston City Council Position 1 6:30 pm Houston City Council Position 3 8:00 pm September 15 Houston City Council Position 4 6:30 pm Houston City Council Position 5 8:00 pm September 22 Houston City Council District A 6:30 pm Houston City Council District F 8:00 pm October 6 Houston City Council Position 2 6:30 pm Houston City Council District B 8:00 pm October 13 Houston City Council District C 6:30 pm Houston City Council District D 8:00 pm October 20 Houston City Council District J 6:30 pm Houston City Council District K 8:00 pm October 27 Houston Mayor 6:30 pm

Some of these races have very large fields. At Large #2 has ten candidates filed, District B has eight. Those may present some logistical challenges for the format. Tune in for yourself and see.

LWV update

The following email has been sent to League of Women Voters registration volunteers:

To Our Voter Registration Volunteers:

It is with great pleasure that I write to tell you that we shall after all be able to provide our usual on-the-spot voter registration service to new citizens at the Houston Area Naturalization Ceremony to be held on December 15th. And, with a few minor procedural tweaks, we anticipate being able to continue with this excellent program in 2011 and beyond.

Mr. Sumner’s plans were unsupportable as a matter of law, as a matter of wise governance and as a matter of simple good sense.

I ask you to make every effort to join our Corps of Volunteers and help welcome new citizens to the electorate on December 15th.

As always, please reply to this email and let us know if you’ll be able to be there. We’ll then provide additional instructions and prepare your credentials. It’s going to be a great day.

With kindest regards from Ann and from me,

Linda W. Cohn

The League of Women Voters of the Houston Area
Education Fund

I’m very glad to hear it, and I look forward to receiving word that the matter has been satisfactorily resolved.

Meanwhile, the Chron editorial board took notice of Sumners’ actions.

Seems to us that facilitating the registration of new citizens should be a top priority of an elected official with voter registrar responsibilities, and we don’t know of a surer pool of potential voters than those people who’ve just been sworn in as U.S. citizens.

[…]

After the controversy erupted, Sumners announced he would seek a waiver from the Texas secretary of state to allow the League of Women Voters to collect the registration forms and deliver them to his office. He also postponed the change in policy pending review by the Justice Department. It’s too bad he didn’t do that before setting off a needless brouhaha.

Linda W. Cohn, voter registration chair for the league, says she’s received assurances from the Texas secretary of state’s office that the current method of registering voters at naturalization ceremonies is proper and that the process will continue at the ceremony next Wednesday. “I am concerned that one of Mr. Sumners’ first acts of governance was so ill-considered,” notes Cohn. “It would seem to me that a voter registrar would so happily embrace the opportunity to welcome new citizens to the electorate at a minuscule cost to the tax office.”

We hope this is not an indication of the quality of policy decision-making by Sumners in the future. Now that the election’s over, we believe Commissioners Court should create an independent election administrator position that will insulate this vital governmental function from the partisanship and issue grandstanding exhibited by recent tax assessor-collectors.

I for one am quite certain that this is an indication of the quality of Sumners’ future policy decision-making. I’ve expressed some concerns about the elections administrator idea, but minimizing the damage Sumners is capable of doing outweighs a lot of that.

More on Sumners and the LWV

I’ve got some updates on the change in policy by Tax Assessor-to-be Don Sumners regarding voter registrations at naturalization ceremonies. First, Sumners has acknowledged the need to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department for any changes to voter registration procedures, so the change has been suspended pending resolution of that. Linda Cohn, the Voter Registration chair for the League of Women Voters, forwarded me an email chain between herself and the Secretary of State’s office that confirmed that as long as there is a Tax Office employee present to take immediate custody of the registration forms then no receipts are required. I can’t share that because I have not had the chance to ask permission from the SOS employee who corresponded with Cohn, but I do have a few other items:

Here’s Sumners’ letter to the LWV informing them of the change in policy.

Here’s the LWV response (page one, page two), which asserts that he has his facts wrong.

And here’s a brief conversation I had with Cohn recapping some of these items:

Download the MP3 file

The good news is that the LWV and Sumners are discussing possible resolutions to this that would allow them to continue their work; one possibility that she mentions is for an LWV representative (likely herself) to substitute for the Tax Office person for the purpose of taking immediate custody of the registrations.. That’s all well and good, and I hope her optimism about a mutually agreeable outcome is warranted. But I’ve got to agree with Greg that this is going to be par for the course, not just from Sumners but from all of the voter regression crowd, which is why the fight over voter ID and similar measures is still vitally important no matter what the partisan makeup is in the Lege or what those who think the right to vote isn’t all that big a deal say.

No voter registration for you

The following email, sent from the League of Women Voters registration address to its membership, was forwarded to me. I present it below in its entirity:

From: LWV Voter Registration
Sent: Sunday, December 05, 2010 3:19 PM
Subject: Voter Registration at Naturalization Ceremonies

To our Voter Registration Volunteers:

It is my sad duty to inform you that we are no longer able to offer our customary on-the-spot voter registration service to new citizens at Houston Area Naturalization Ceremonies.

Mr. Don Sumners, newly elected and installed as Harris County Tax-Assessor Collector and Registrar of Voters, has issued directives that make it impossible for us to continue with our robust, comprehensive and efficient program.

We will distribute voter registration applications that can be completed and mailed; we will operate a limited receipt service for aspiring voters who wish to remain after dismissal for individual attention.

Please let Ann or me know if you wish to volunteer for duty at the Naturalization Ceremony to be held on December 15. We hope that you will want to be there.

We remain grateful to the United States District Court and to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for allowing us the opportunity to rejoice with America’s newest citizens on one of the most important days of their lives. We remain committed to seeking a correct, convenient and celebratory path for each new citizen to enter the electorate. We will always welcome discussions with Mr. Sumners to this end.

Until that happy day, please remember that over the past four years 63,080 new citizens became voters by your hands, an accomplishment that stands as proud testament to your dedication to civic virtue.

For Ann and for me, it is as always a personal pleasure. You have our thanks and our admiration.

Linda Cohn
The League of Women Voters of the Houston Area Education Fund

A followup email from the LWV explained the situation in some more detail:

As you know, we have the honor of being present at Houston Area Naturalization Ceremonies for the purpose of conducting an on-the-spot voter registration service. We are guests of the United States District Court and of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, who kindly grant us a few minutes at the conclusion of the ceremony to distribute voter registration applications and collect the completed applications as the new citizens exit the naturalization venue. At the typical ceremony 1500 petitioners are sworn; about 80% will register to vote on-site, literally within minutes of their oath. I know you’ll agree that it is an efficient and celebratory way for new citizens to enter the electorate.

The numbers and exigencies of safety and crowd control make receipted voter registration applications impractical. During the Bettencourt and Vasquez administrations tax office personnel were cheerfully dispatched to take immediate custody of completed voter registration applications; this waived our duty to provide each aspiring voter with a receipt. Mr. Sumners has withdrawn this element of support, which would amount to about an hour and a half of employee time per month. We can still distribute voter registration applications that new citizens can complete and later mail (although we cannot assist or answer questions – that would trigger deputy volunteer registrar protocols and hence the need for receipts). We can still offer one-on-one receipted voter registration to any aspiring voter who wishes to remain for personal attention. But this new iteration would be a feeble remnant of what was an excellent community outreach.

I am hopeful that Mr. Sumners will be persuaded that his decision was unwise and should be reversed.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know why a voter registrar would not want to allow registrations to take place at naturalization ceremonies. After all, this is the one time you can truly be sure of someone’s citizenship. Chris Moran of the Chron got some answers from Sumners about this.

[Sumners] said Monday that technically the League’s voter registration activities at monthly naturalization ceremonies are illegal without the receipts.

[…]

Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Gerry Birnberg filed a protest with the county attorney’s office, alleging a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act that requires the U.S. Department of Justice’s approval for any change in the way voter registration is conducted.

Sumners, who took office on Nov. 15, acknowledged that the change will create difficulties for the League. But he said all other voter registration groups have to submit receipts, as does the League at events other than the naturalization ceremonies.

“It’s a matter of bringing everybody under the same rules,” Sumners said.

Cohn said it was her understanding that the League operated under a state-approved exemption for its work at the ceremonies.

But Sumners said the state has granted no such exemption. The arrangement has been merely a tradition.

Sumners said he intends to send a letter to the Secretary of State this week to ask for a formal exemption for the League.

“We recognize the problem and we’re willing to help solve it,” Sumners said.

So Sumners is saying that his predecessors had been breaking the law all these years. I’d love to know if Bettencourt and Vasquez would agree with his characterization of their actions. I’m also very interested in hearing what the DOJ will say about Sumners’ actions. Since it seems to me that in the end Sumners thought this was basically a technicality, there must have been a less disruptive way for him to have dealt with it. Something tells me this won’t be the last time we say something like that about one of his actions. KHOU has more.

I-Day Houston

From the Inbox, from the League of Women Voters:

The League of Women Voters of the Houston Area and the American Society of Civil Engineers are set to host two debates, a candidate meet-and-greet, and infrastructure townhall meetings during the Infrastructure Day Houston (I-Day) event at the George R. Brown Convention Center on Sat., Sept. 18, 2010. The first of two debates will begin at 6:00pm. Candidate meet-and-greet opportunities and infrastructure townhall meetings will begin as early as at 3:00 pm. The event is free and open to the public.

The League is hosting and facilitating two debates for the offices of the Harris County Judge and Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector. Elisabeth MacNamara, National President of the League of Women Voters of the United States, is introducing the candidates. Laurie Johnson, host of NPR’s All Things Considered, is moderating the debates. The Tax Assessor-Collector debate with Don Sumners and Diane Trautman is from 6:00 to 7:00 pm. The County Judge Debate with Ed Emmett and Gordon Quan is from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Prior to the debates, the candidate meet-and-greet and the infrastructure-related townhall meetings will run from 3:00 to 5:30 pm. Voters will be able to meet over 150 candidates running for public office in Harris County for the election being held on November 2, 2010. The townhall meetings will focus on topics including: Transportation, Energy, Ports and Airports, and Storm and Waste Water. Experts, including Dr. John Lienhard, host of the Engines of Our Ingenuity program on National Public Radio, will lead the discussions and information sessions.

Free t-shirts will be given at the door for the first 100 attendees. For more information on the event, visit our website www.lwvhouston.org.

The Facebook invitation for this event is here. I had received a press release about this last month but didn’t post about it at the time because the event was so far off. It’s not so far off any more. Some of you will note that Saturday is also Yom Kippur. It’s unfortunate that this event, which may include the only debates of this kind, falls on a day when a significant number of people cannot attend, including State Reps. Ellen Cohen and Scott Hochberg. But this is when it is, so if you can make it I hope you will do so.

League of Women Voters guide to this election

If you haven’t voted yet and are looking for a nice one-stop guide to the election that you can print out and carry with you, let me point you to the League of Women Voters guide (PDF) to the Houston races. It includes a short Q&A with each candidate, plus a brief overview of the Constitutional amendments. All in a nice, printable, easy-to-read format. Check it out.