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Patricia Harless

An incomplete filing update

First, a little Republican action in CD02.

Rep. Ted Poe

Hurricane Harvey is reshaping congressional campaigns in Houston.

When the flood waters socked the Meyerland area, it also washed out the home of former hospital CEO David Balat, a Republican, who was hoping to unseat fellow Republican and current U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston.

“Like so many people, we’re being forced to relocate because of Hurricane Harvey,” Balat said. “We’re having to start over.”

Balat is now in the market for a new home and he’s had to revise his political plans. He’s still running for Congress, Balat has amended his campaign paperwork with the Federal Election Commission and announced he is instead running for a different congressional district. Instead of Culberson’s 7th District – a mostly west Houston and western Harris County seat – Balat is now among a growing list of GOP candidates hoping to replace Rep. Ted Poe, R-Atascocita.


Last week, Rick Walker jumped into the race. The self-identified conservative Republican, said he will focus on more efficient government spending, smaller government and “cutting bureaucratic waste.” Walker, 38, is the CEO of GreenEfficient, a company that helps commercial businesses obtain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Also, Texas Rep. Kevin Roberts, R-Houston, earlier this month filed papers to run for the 2nd Congressional District as well.

I figured there would be a big field on the Republican side for CD02. There are four now for CD02, the three mentioned in this story plus Kathaleen Wall, according to the county GOP filing page, and I would guess there will be more. I am a little surprised that only one current or former officeholder has filed for it, however.

Two other notes of interest on the Republican side: Sam Harless, husband of former State Rep. Patricia Harless, has filed for HD126, the seat Patricia H held and that Kevin Roberts is leaving behind. Former Rep. Gilbert Pena, who knocked off Rep. Mary Ann Perez in HD144 in 2014 and then lost to her in 2016, is back for the rubber match.

On the Democratic side, we once again refer to the SOS filings page, hence the “incomplete” appellation in the title. Let’s do this bullet-point-style:

– Todd Litton remains the only Dem to file in CD02 so far. I’m sure he won’t mind if that stays the case. Five of the six known hopefuls in CD07 have made it official: Alex Triantaphyllis, Laura Moser, Jason Westin, Lizzie Fletcher, and James Cargas. Sylvia Garcia has filed in CD29, and she is joined by Hector Morales and Dominique Garcia, who got 4% of the vote as the third candidate in the 2016 primary; Armando Walle has not yet filed. Someone named Richard Johnson has filed to challenge Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in CD18. Dayna Steele filed in CD36; I expect Jon Powell to follow suit after the HCDP office reopens on Monday.

– It’s not on the SOS page yet, but Fran Watson posted on Facebook that she filed (in Austin) for SD17. Ahmad Hassan has also filed for that seat.

– We will have a rematch in HD139 as Randy Bates has filed for a second shot at that seat, against freshman Rep. Jarvis Johnson. Rep. Garnet Coleman in HD147 also has an opponent, a Daniel Espinoza. There will be contested primaries in HDs 133 and 138, with Martin Schexnayder and Sandra Moore in the former and Adam Milasincic and Jenifer Pool in the latter. Undrai F. Fizer has filed in HD126, and Fred Infortunio in HD130.

– We have a candidate for Commissioners Court in Precinct 2, a Daniel Box. Google tells me nothing about him, but there is someone local and of a seemingly appropriate geographical and ideological profile on Facebook.

That’s the news of interest as I know it. Feel free to tell me what else is happening.

The state’s voter ID failure is much bigger than you think

You really have to read this.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The confusion started in the first hour of the first day of early voting in San Antonio last October.

Signs in polling places about the state’s controversial voter ID law contained outdated rules. Poll workers gave voters incorrect information. Lines were long — full of people who were full of uncertainty.

The presidential election of 2016 was off to a sputtering start in Texas, where years of angry claims about illegal voting had led to a toughening of identification requirements for those going to the polls.

On that day last October, Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, was met with a line out the door when she arrived at her San Antonio polling place.

“A poll worker stood in front of me where I was and said, ‘You are at the one-and-a-half-hour mark,'” Perales said. “And she insisted your ID needed to be out when you got to the front of the line.”

But that, in fact, wasn’t the law. A compromise a federal court had settled on months before allowed those without photo IDs to fill out an affidavit and show alternate ID.

“So, we filed suit against the county,” Perales said.

Days later, Bexar County, home to San Antonio, agreed to try and remedy its mistakes — poll workers would be retrained, signs would be corrected and voicemail instructions for voters would be updated.

But a ProPublica review of the 2016 vote in Texas shows that Bexar County’s problems were hardly isolated — and, in many cases, were beyond fixing.

Indeed, the state’s efforts to enact and enforce the strictest voter ID law in the nation were so plagued by delays, revisions, court interventions and inadequate education that the casting of ballots was inevitably troubled. Among the problems that surfaced:

  • The promised statewide effort to inform Texans about voter identification requirements failed terribly. ProPublica contacted hundreds of community organizations and local county party officials to see if they’d received a voting instruction manual the state said it had sent but could not find one who had used it. The largest voter education groups — League of Women Voters Texas, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, MALDEF and several disability rights groups — said they didn’t get copies at all.
  • The fiscal note attached to the 2011 bill indicated voter education would cost the state $2 million. That’s one-fifth what a similar bill in Missouri — a state with 21 million fewer people than Texas — allocated. While the Texas secretary of state’s office spent the majority of its voter education budget in 2016 to educate voters about the law, the money appears to have been wasted on an ineffective campaign.
  • The Texas Department of Public Safety, a law enforcement agency tasked with issuing free IDs for voting purposes, initially required those who applied for the ID to be fingerprinted, a decision many say scared off potential voters. DPS also didn’t have Spanish translators in all of its offices and didn’t initially provide applications or information about the free IDs in any language other than English.
  • Remarkably, the very aim of the legislation — to thwart people from voting illegally — was not fully addressed by the law, which allowed three versions of identification obtainable by non-citizens.

Jacquelyn Callanen, the election administrator for Bexar County, said she is still furious about the state’s performance in handling last November’s vote.

“I’ve been doing this for 22 years,” she said. “This was the most complicated and emotionally charged election I have ever seen.”

There’s a ton more, and you need to read the whole thing. It will piss you off, and it should. We know that the state’s so-called voter ID education effort last year was a boondoggle and a failure, but you can’t fully appreciate how big a failure it was without this. Among other things, the story recounts the history of voter ID legislation in Texas, how the Elections department at the Secretary of State’s office became politicized and denuded of competence, and more. As noted by the Brennan Center, there will be a status call on June 7 to sort out the issues in determining a remedy in the wake of the ruling last month that the voter ID law was passed with discriminatory intent. I say any such remedy needs to begin with a complete scrapping of the existing law and an eight-figure campaign to do real voter (and elections administrator) education, done by multiple firms that don’t make BS claims about “proprietary” information. Then maybe, just maybe, we can claim to have set things right. Read the story and see what I mean.

One Ratliff wants to come back

Rubber match in HD115.

Bennett Ratliff

Bennett Ratliff will run for the Dallas-area House seat he lost to state Rep. Matt Rinaldi by just 92 votes in the 2014 GOP primary, the Coppell Republican announced Monday.

“What the district has noticed is that there is a huge contrast between our records,” Ratliff, a civil engineer and longtime school board member, said in an interview. “People have noticed that their voices in Austin are silenced.”

Ratliff won a 2012 race for the district only to be ousted narrowly in 2014 by Rinaldi, a Tea Party-backed Dallas lawyer who challenged the incumbent’s conservative credentials. This will be the third primary matchup between Ratliff and Rinaldi, who also campaigned for the seat in 2012 but failed to make it to a runoff.

Bennett Ratliff announces his comeback attempt a few days after his brother Thomas announced his departure from the SBOE. There’s a certain synchronicity to that. It would be nice to boot Rinaldi, one of the ten worst legislators on LGBT issues. The primary is the better chance for that, though November is a possibility as well. Here are the numbers for the district:

Year Romney Obama Romney% Obama% ====================================== 2012 29,861 23,353 55.3% 43.2% Year Abbott Davis Abbott% Davis% ====================================== 2014 17,602 12,511 57.5% 40.9%

I’d call that a step below “swing”, but far from hopeless. One could argue that Dems might have a better shot against the wingnuttier Rinaldi, as Republicans who aren’t rabidly anti-gay might be unwilling to vote for him. Rinaldi won 57.1 to 39.5 in 2014, so there’s no evidence for that from his first election, though perhaps he’s more notorious now. Be all that as it may, this is a seat that could be competitive under the right set of circumstances, or perhaps if the long-term decline of Republican voters in Dallas County speeds up a bit.

In the meantime, another Republican legislator will step down, this one from Harris County.

Rep. Patricia Harless

State Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, announced Monday that she won’t seek reelection next year.


Harless said she has become frustrated with infighting among Republicans in the Legislature and hopes to stay involved in GOP politics and campaigns after her term ends at the end of 2016. “I’m just really disappointed in the way the Republicans act in the Texas House,” she said. “People need to know that consensus and moderation and working across the aisle is not a bad thing.

“Some Republicans cater to the four or five percent who vote in the Republican primaries,” she said. “That’s not who we represent; we represent everybody in our districts.”

Harless is one of House Speaker Joe Straus’ stalwarts and serves on three powerful House committees: Calendars, State Affairs and Transportation. She said she thought about leaving after her fourth term: “I stayed last time for Straus. I’m leaving this time for me.”

Barring something crazy, this one will be decided in the Republican primary; Mitt Romney won HD126 by a 62.1-36.7 margin in 2012. Harless was from the get-stuff-done faction of the GOP, so you know how that will play out. Dems should definitely put up and support a candidate out there, if only to help the countywide GOTV effort, but some perspective will be needed. Best wishes to Rep. Harless in the next phase of her life.

Anchia birth certificate bill passes out of committee

Good news.

House Bill 537, by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), would allow same-sex parents to have both names on the birth certificates of adopted children.


On Monday, the committee quietly voted 7-4 to advance HB 537, with Cook and Rep. Patricia Harless (R-Spring) joining five Democrats who voted in favor of the bill. Four Republicans voted against it, while two others were absent.

“This is a simple, common-sense bill that helps children,” Equality Texas legislative specialist Daniel Williams said. “It shouldn’t surprise anyone that it passed with bipartisan support.

“At this point it will be a challenge to get the bill to the House floor before the deadline next week, but it’s still a realistic possibility,” he added.

See here and here for the background. This is a big achievement, even if the bill has long odds of even coming up for a vote on the House floor. Kudos to Rep. Anchia for his persistence and to Rep. Cook for giving the bill a fair chance.

Trying again with online voter registration

My State Rep., Carol Alvarado, would like for you to be able to register to vote online.

Rep. Carol Alvarado

Rep. Carol Alvarado

Can I just state the obvious? Why can’t we register to vote online?

I manage my banking online, I do my taxes online, I can even buy and sell stock online; so why can’t I register to vote online? A 2014 survey of registered voters in Texas by the Pew Charitable Trust indicated that 34 percent mistakenly believed that online voter registration was already available. Georgia, Indiana, Arizona and Louisiana are just a few examples of the 20 states that have enacted legislation to modernize the way they register voters by offering an online application to register to vote.

In the social media era, it is hard to wrap my mind around why the movement to modernize the electoral process in Texas is moving at a snail’s pace. Which is why I have filed HB 953 this session to bring Texas into the modern era by allowing voters to register online.

Currently, to register to vote, one could find the time in their day to visit certain designated government offices to fill out a paper application. One could also download an application from the website of the Secretary of State, fill it out, print it out, and send your application through the mail. This feature is a step in the right direction but it requires readily available printing and postage. In such a digital world the current process is not only outdated, but inconvenient for the voters of today.

It’s not difficult to see why we had such a dismal 24.99 percent turnout of Texas’ voting age population in the latest mid-term election.


Arizona was one of the first states to transition to online voter registration. Officials in their largest county have reported the cost of a single registration dropped from 83 cents per card to 3 cents per card.

Allow me to put these figures into a Texas perspective. According to the Texas Secretary of State, at the time of the 2014 General Election, just over 14 million Texans were registered to vote. Using the Arizona estimate of 83 cents per card and assuming each registrant used the paper method, that would amount to a total cost of $11,641,116. Using the .03 estimate, that figure would plummet to $420,763.

I may not be a certified accountant, but if I could save the taxpayers over $11 million, I would make every effort to do so and be happy to take the credit.

Here’s HB953, which you will note includes Republican Rep. Patricia Harless as a coauthor. There were two bills that attempted to do the same thing in 2013. The good news is that SB315 from 2013, for which Rep. Alvarado was a sponsor in the House, passed the Senate and made it out of the House Elections Committee, but ran out of time before it could get a vote in the lower chamber. The bad news is that four Senators who voted for it (the bill passed by a 21-10 margin) are no longer there, and two of them (Sens. John Carona and Wendy Davis) were succeeded by people who (to me at least) seem less likely to vote for something like this. I could be wrong, so don’t give up hope. Honestly, I’m not even sure what the argument against doing voter registration online is. You have to think that one of these days we’re going to be voting online, perhaps via our own handheld devices or whatever comes next to replace them. It would be strange if at that time we’re still chained to paper and snail mail or fax machines for registration purposes, wouldn’t it?

Voter ID trial testimony ends

The state of Texas put on its case in the voter ID trial.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Lawyers from the Texas attorney general’s office presented witnesses Wednesday in federal court defending the state voter ID law as necessary and attempting to rebuff claims that it is discriminatory.

The state’s case in the federal trial, now in its second week, relies in part on the written testimony, read in court, of Republican state legislators. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos heard testimony from state Sens. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Dan Patrick, R-Houston, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, who said that the voter ID law had the support of the vast majority of people across that state.


Also Wednesday, witnesses for the state and plaintiffs’ lawyers — representing the U.S. Justice Department, as well as several civil rights groups — sparred over the voter ID law and its effects.

During one exchange, Richard Dellheim, a Justice Department lawyer, tried to discredit an expert witness for the state.

Trey Hood, a University of Georgia political science professor, was called by the state to discuss his study that showed the voter ID law in Georgia resulted in suppressed voter turnout in 2008 among people of all races and ethnicities, compared with the comparable election in 2004 before the law was enacted.

Dellheim asked Hood if the study was valid and applicable in Texas. Hood said he thought so, though he later said he couldn’t empirically prove it was.

Dellheim then pointed to other courts’ opinions about Hood’s work, and noted his studies were called “wholly unreliable,” “suspect” and substantially less credible than other studies.

Oops. There were other embarrassing revelations as well.

Emails from a Department of Public Safety official raised questions Tuesday in federal court about the sincerity of the agency’s voter qualification efforts.

“Zero’s a good number,” Tony Rodriguez, a senior DPS manager wrote in a email presented as evidence in the ongoing voter ID trial. Rodriguez was responding to a subordinate’s report that no election identification certificates had been issued the day before at a DPS location.

Election Identification Certificates, or EICs, are a form of identification provided under the contested law that requires Texans to show certain photo identification before casting a ballot. The EICs are an alternative for citizens who are unable to – or chose not to – get other forms of qualifying photo identification.

The messages were discussed the same day the State of Texas began defending its voter ID law in a trial that has garnered national attention for its potentially wide-reaching implications. The law in question, known as Senate Bill 14, was passed by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011.

Another email from Rodriguez refers to a citizen inquiring about getting an EIC only to change their mind and leave the DPS office as a “close call.” Earlier in that message, it reads that the agency was continuing its “clean sweep.”

“This is getting better by the day,” Rodriguez writes in another when a different report shows no EICs had been issued.

He said that was his way of expressing disappointment over the lack of certificates issued despite extensive man hours going into the program. It was sarcasm, he told a Department of Justice lawyer in court Tuesday.

She wasn’t convinced.

“‘This is getting better by the day’ is a pretty unusual way to express disappointment, yes?” DOJ attorney Anna Baldwin asked Rodriguez during his testimony.

A recent tally shows the state has issued 279 EICs despite having more than 350 locations or entities equipped to distribute the cards, according to court testimony.

That’s an attitude that comes from the top, I’d say. Not hard to understand why it might be pervasive among the folks on the ground as well. See also this Trib story about the lack of places at which to get an acceptable form of voter ID and the fuss that Democratic Senators are raising about it.

By the way, if you’re wondering why testimony from Republican legislators was read into the record from earlier depositions instead of being taken live, you’re not the only one who thought it was odd.

Before resting, the state declined to unseal testimony of other lawmakers and did not read transcripts from their depositions into the record.

Notably, the court did not hear from Speaker Joe Straus, who presided over the House when the voter ID law passed, and Rep. Patricia Harless, a Republican from Spring and author of the House version of the voter ID bill, both of whom were on the state’s list of witnesses.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Gerry Hebert, who is representing U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, and the League of United Latin American Citizens, said he cannot remember — in his 41 years of practicing law — when a state or local government declined to call an elected official to testify in person at a trial, especially when the intent of the legislative body is at stake.

“It’s extraordinary,” he told the American-Statesman.

Herbert said he believed the absence of live testimony from lawmakers signaled that they cannot defend the law in court, Hebert said.

Attorney general spokeswoman Lauren Bean responded to the criticism by saying: “Unlike the plaintiffs, the state will try this case in the courtroom, not the media.”

I’m sure the judge will be duly impressed by the majesty of your retort, Lauren. Abbott has gone to great lengths to prevent any Republican legislator or legislative staff member from testifying. It’s more than fair to speculate as to why. I hope the judge notes this in her opinion.

As always, see the Brennan Center’s coverage – here are their writeups for Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning, and Wednesday afternoon. The state has rested its case as of Thursday, and closing arguments will be held on September 22.

One more interesting bit from Zachary Roth at MSNBC:

Defending the ID measure, lawyers for Texas sought to cast doubt on the credibility of some expert witnesses, but offered little that undermined the broad thrust of the challengers’ case. They said at the close of proceedings Monday that they planned to offer just two witnesses, with their presentation lasting only around a day and half.

The law’s opponents suggested privately that Texas’s laissez-faire approach shows the weakness of its defense. But the state may be relying on a basic reality: Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, the burden of proof is on the challengers to show that the ID law will stop Texas’s racial minorities from voting.

Texas’s voter ID law, passed in 2011, was struck down the following year by a federal court, which ruled that it violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Under Section 5, Texas and other covered areas had to show that their election laws didn’t disproportionately affect racial minorities before they could go into effect. In 2013, the Supreme Court neutered Section 5 in Shelby County v. Holder, and hours later, Texas announced that its ID law was back in force.

It’s now being challenged under Section 2 of the VRA, which was unaffected by Shelby. But under Section 2, the onus is on the law’s challengers to show not just that it hits minorities hardest, but that it does so because of a history of racial discrimination. That’s a relatively high bar to meet—though it’s one that voting rights advocates have met lately, at least for now, in the Wisconsin and Ohio cases.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, an Obama appointee, did little to tip her hand. But lawyers for the plaintiffs said they took her obvious engagement and interest—she took frequent notes, and several times interjected to ask witnesses to clarify points—as a promising sign.


The challengers also continued to attack the main rationale Texas has offered for the ID law: that it’s needed to stop fraud. Lorraine Minnite, a political scientist at Rutgers University who has conducted perhaps the closest analysis of voter fraud claims, testified that voter impersonation fraud—the only kind of fraud that the ID might stop—is vanishingly rare.

Minnite said there have been just four such cases in Texas since 2000—and it’s not clear that any of them would have been prevented by the ID law.

At times, lawyers for Texas seemed disorganized or disengaged. Reed Clay sought to use a U.S. Congressional report to discredit Project Vote, a voter registration group with whom Minnite has been associated in the past, but was unable to find the relevant portion, and gave up.

Later, John B. Scott seemed to think better of a line of questioning about an expert witness’s past clients, and abruptly abandoned it, triggering laughter in the courtroom—and even a faint smile from Judge Gonzales Ramos.

The defense in the redistricting trial has been similar, in that the state hasn’t bothered to do much. This is what happens when the burden of proof is not on you. PDiddie and Texas Leftist have more.

No hiding behind privilege

Here’s your latest voter ID litigation update, from the Brad Blog:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Just over a week ago, it was North Carolina legislators ordered by the court to cough up documentation relating to passage of new, draconian restrictions on voting rights in their state. Now, legislators in Texas are facing much the same thing, as that state’s extreme polling place Photo ID restrictions also face legal and Constitutional challenge.

By way of an eight-page Order [PDF]issued late last week, U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has directed the State of Texas to serve upon the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) documents that relate to the question of whether “state legislators, contrary to their public pronouncements, acted with discriminatory intent in enacting SB 14,” the Lone Star State’s polling place Photo ID restriction law.


As the DoJ explained in a supplement [PDF] to its motion to compel the release of documentation relating to legislative deliberation before enactment of the law, Texas refused to turn over a wide array of relevant documents, including “numerous communications concerning SB 14 and prior photographic voter identification proposals amongst Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, Speaker Joe Straus, Senator Troy Fraser (Senate sponsor of SB 14), Representative Patricia Harless (House sponsor of SB 14), and their top aides.”

Texas Republicans asserted that they could conceal such evidence because of what they claim to be an “absolute” legislative privilege — this despite numerous cases in which courts have not only held otherwise, but have relied upon such things as emails between legislators as evidence of discriminatory intent, according to the DoJ filing.

Federal judges, in this case, and in the pending federal challenge to North Carolina’s massive election “reform” bill have now both rejected the effort by Republicans to hide documentary evidence of discriminatory intent behind a shield of “absolute” legislative privilege.

As occurred in the North Carolina case, Judge Gonzales recognized the existence of a “qualified” legislative privilege to protect such documents from being released. The question as to whether documents must be produced is arrived at by applying a five-part test: “(1) the relevance of the evidence sought to be protected; (2) the availability of other evidence; (3) the seriousness of the litigation and the issues involved; (4) the role of the government in the litigation; and (5) the possibility of future timidity by government employees who will be forced to recognize that their secrets are violable.”

That five-part test weighs the need for confidentiality amongst legislators and their aides against the need to eliminate “racial discrimination in voting — the bedrock of this country’s democratic system of government,” as described by Ramos in her ruling.

Click over for further details. Texas Redistricting was also on this. There’s also an update to the scheduling order for the trial, which remains on September 2.

You sure you want to attack early voting?

Greg notes the leading edge of vote suppression efforts, an attack on early voting by Phyllis Schafly.

“The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game. The Democrats carried most states that allow many days of early voting, and Obama’s national field director admitted, shortly before last year’s election, that ‘early voting is giving us a solid lead in the battleground states that will decide this election.’

“The Obama technocrats have developed an efficient system of identifying prospective Obama voters and then nagging them (some might say harassing them) until they actually vote. It may take several days to accomplish this, so early voting is an essential component of the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote campaign.”

She later adds that early voting “violates the spirit of the Constitution” and facilitates “illegal votes” that “cancel out the votes of honest Americans.” I’m not sure what she means by “illegal votes,” but it sounds an awful lot like voting by Democratic constituencies: students, low-income people, and minorities.
– See more at:

Putting aside the tangibly racist fear that Too Many of Those People are voting – honestly, it’s refreshing in a way to see it expressed so nakedly – Greg notes that there was a brief but ill-fated effort to curb early voting. That effort was led by Rep. Patricia Harless, who was handed the ball after some more level-headed Republicans declined to carry it. In the end, the bill was withdrawn in the face of vociferous objections, all of which was much to Harless’ surprise.

Greg’s point is that bills like this often come back and are more successful in subsequent sessions. That may well be the case – Greg offers evidence that Rick Perry’s hand was behind Harless’ bill – but I’ll make the same point that I (and others) made at the time: Curbing early voting will hurt Republicans more than it will hurt Democrats.

I showed that for Harris County for each election going back to 2002, in which the GOP did better in straight ticket votes during early voting every year except for 2008 than they did on Election Day. The year 2008 must have left as deep and indelible an impression on the GOP psyche as it did on the Democratic one, because it has clearly instilled the idea that early voting necessarily favors the Dems. I suppose if you really believed that, you might want to reduce early voting hours and make more people vote on Election Day.

And you would be wrong to believe that. I looked at several other counties, mostly Democratic ones, and the pattern is clear and consistent.

Year County STR Early STR ED =================================== 2010 Bexar 56.8% 46.7% 2010 Dallas 45.8% 44.3% 2010 El Paso 36.5% 29.8% 2010 Hidalgo 26.1% 29.6% 2010 Tarrant 62.4% 62.1% 2010 Travis 41.2% 37.4% 2012 Bexar 49.4% 36.5% 2012 Cameron 31.9% 22.4% 2012 Dallas 39.1% 38.6% 2012 El Paso 30.9% 23.1% 2012 Hidalgo 22.5% 21.3% 2012 Tarrant 58.3% 54.9% 2012 Travis 37.8% 33.4%

As before, “STR Early” represents the percentage of early straight ticket Republican votes, while “STR ED” is the percentage of straight ticket Republican votes on Election Day. Annoyingly enough, Cameron County’s election archives didn’t go back farther than 2012, so I just included that year. With the exception of Hidalgo County in 2010, Republicans did better in early voting than they did on Election Day. Given these numbers, I cannot fathom why Republicans might want to reduce early voting hours. They’d be cutting into their own advantage. If they try this again in 2015, I’ll still oppose them on principle, as I believe voting should be made easier, but I at least will recognize where my best interests lie. All I can say is that if you’re taking advice from Phyllis Schafly, you get what you deserve.

Early voting safe for now

Glad to hear it.

A bill that would slash the number of days allowed for early voting is likely to be pulled after scathing testimony Monday from opponents who said the bill was discriminatory and retrogressive.

House Bill 2093, by state Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, would limit the early-voting period in Texas to seven days before general and primary elections. Current law mandates 12 days.

Harless initially said the measure was necessary to help elections administrators hire workers and volunteers, saying that a 12-day early-voting period as a possible deterrent.

But after testimony at Monday’s House Elections Committee hearing, where critics slammed its intent as little more than an effort to make casting a ballot harder for everyone, Harless said she would not ask the committee for a vote.

“This bill wasn’t about voter suppression, it was not about limiting access to the polls,” she said. “I will be happy to pull the bill down. I think it’s perfect for an interim study.”

Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, said the bill would move Texas backward by limiting the number of voting days available and by creating longer lines on days when voting is permitted. She added that increased wait times would drive potential voters away.

“The bill lacks a rational basis in election administration and will reduce voter confidence in Texas,” she testified.

Michael Li, who live-tweeted the hearing, detailed some of the specific objections.

Several county election administrators testified that the bill, in fact, might increase costs if they were to try to have more early voting locations in response to a reduction in the number of days of early voting. They explained, that’s because they would need buy additional equipment and hire more staff for the additional locations. If funds for additional equipment were not available, one administrator said it likely would mean moving early voting to larger sites since in many counties nearly half the early vote comes in the week that the bill would lop off.

A number of other witnesses testified about a negative impact on voting in Texas and pointed out that the issue cut across party lines – noting that Mitt Romney received 65% of his total vote and Ted Cruz 66% of his in early voting (a higher percentage than Democratic candidates received).

Glen Maxey of the Texas Democratic Party, in fact, went so far as to call HB 2093 “a voter suppression bill for Republicans.”

See Li’s preview for everything you’d have wanted to know about HB 2093 going into the hearing. That last comment above highlights the most puzzling aspect of this bill. In Harris County, at least, early voting is generally dominated by Republicans. I don’t know about you, but I remember a non-trivial amount of freaking out among Democrats during the first week of early voting last year, when it was clear that the Rs had taken a substantial lead. Dems largely caught up over the last few days of early voting, and then won Election Day, but the pattern in 2012 has been the norm in Harris County, not the exception.

Year EV STR% EV STD % ED STR % ED STD % =============================================== 2002 53.77% 45.76% 49.86% 49.31% 2004 54.83% 44.85% 50.85% 48.55% 2006 50.97% 48.20% 45.98% 52.82% 2008 42.70% 56.94% 49.81% 49.33% 2010 57.56% 41.89% 48.59% 50.55% 2012 50.84% 48.63% 45.18% 53.45%

EV = Early Vote, ED = Election Day; STR = Straight Ticket Republican, STD = Straight Ticket Democrat. Numbers don’t add to 100% because of third-party straight ticket voting.

Obviously, 2008 is the outlier. I think memories of that year are what motivated this bill, and also what caused that aforementioned freakout. But in every other year where early voting has existed, Republicans have taken a majority of the early straight ticket vote, while Democrats have won Election Day in three of the five. In all cases except 2008, Republicans did better in early voting than on Election Day. Frankly, I don’t understand why the Harris County GOP didn’t oppose this bill.

Another way to look at it is the volume of early voting, again in Harris County:

Year EV total ED total ========================== 2002 148,696 457,102 2004 411,821 629,333 2006 171,284 406,579 2008 678,449 442,770 2010 392,141 351,287 2012 700,982 427,100

This time, 2008 is an inflection point. We like early voting. I see no reason to believe that will change. Reducing the number of days to vote early can only make the experience worse. Which, it must be said, was likely part of the calculus, Rep. Harless’ stated surprise notwithstanding.

After the hearing Harless said the opposition came as a complete shock. Had the opponents “bothered to pick up a phone” and call her office, she would have not wasted the committee’s time, she said.

Oh, please. I don’t know how old Rep. Harless is, but I’m pretty sure she wasn’t born yesterday. This bill serves no obvious purpose. What did she think the reaction was going to be? Texas Politics has more, and Michael Li recaps the other bills that were heard in the Elections Committee yesterday.

The state would like for the counties to enforce the law against eight-liners

Apparently, some legislators who don’t much like gambling had a few things to say about that article about eight-liners.

“Eight-liners that provide cash prizes are against the law, and the law needs to be enforced,” [State Sen. Dan] Patrick said in a statement. “Without oversight, illegal game rooms become hot spots for crime.”

Patrick noted that there have been a number of shootings in and outside of game rooms recently.

“The state cannot just look the other way anymore,” he said. “The law must be enforced.”


[State Rep. Patricia] Harless, who authored a failed bill in 2009 on illegal eight-liners, agreed officials shouldn’t effectively sanction illegal activity by collecting a fee without making sure the businesses operate within the law. “They shouldn’t be able to collect a fee on something that is considered illegal,” she said.

But Harless said there hasn’t been much of an appetite for tougher eight-liner-related legislation in recent sessions of the Legislature. “It’s not a very popular concept,” she said. Too many businesses with legitimate games could be affected if lawmakers pass a measure, she said.

Again, I pronounce myself largely agnostic on the issue. I will say, however, that given the counties’ concerns about the cost of enforcing the anti-eight-liner laws, legislators who are unhappy with their lack of action ought to pony up the resources to help them do something about it. Otherwise, Patrick and Harless ought to accept the fact that they’re just prioritizing and making decisions based on their capacity.

Abbott gives on legislative privilege

About time.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In an effort to move to trial more quickly, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has quietly dropped his opposition to the Department of Justice’s request to take depositions from state lawmakers in the voter identification case.

In March, Abbott asked a federal court in Washington to shield 12 state lawmakers from giving depositions in the state’s voter identification case against the Justice Department. Citing legislative privilege, Abbott’s office said that the department’s requests to depose lawmakers and subpoena records amounted to “an unwarranted federal intrusion into the operations of the Texas Legislature.”

But now, Abbott has decided to stop trying to prevent the depositions, said Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for Abbott.

“In order to move the case forward without delay, the State agreed to allow depositions to proceed,” Strickland said in a statement.

The Justice Department has asked for depositions from the author of the voter ID measure, Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay; its House sponsor, Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring; various legislative staffers; and other lawmakers.


Luis Figueroa, a staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is intervening in the case, confirmed that depositions have begun and that lawyers for the civil rights group were on hand for some of them.

Figueroa said the state began to cooperate and stop fighting the depositions after the D.C. court admonished it for slowing the voter ID case and jeopardizing the July 9 trial date.

Abbott has been braying loudly about how it’s everybody else’s fault that this process has dragged on for so long despite the bench-slapping his office got and the fact that his expansive view of what constitutes privileged information was what had been bogging things down this time. The fact that he has finally conceded that these legislators will have to answer some questions doesn’t mean they’ll answer them all – they are still claiming legislative privilege, and those disputes will be settled by the court on a case by case basis. That will likely take even more time, which again is fine by me. The longer this takes, the better. Texas Redistricting has more.

DOJ defers again on voter ID

In addition to the interim maps, we got some more good news yesterday.

Texas provided “incomplete” information that does not enable federal officials to determine whether their proposed voter ID law would be discriminatory, the Justice Department said in a letter Wednesday.

Essentially, the letter from DOJ Civil Rights Division Voting Section Chief T. Christian Herren Jr. restarts the clock on when the Department has to make a decision about whether the law signed by Gov. Rick Perry complies with the Voting Rights Act. They have 60 days from when Texas sends them complete information.

As the Trib notes, this may mean that the law will not be allowed to take effect on January 1, as the DOJ now has another 60 days to make up its mind. Perhaps if the state ever sends the DOJ the information it has requested, the DOJ might be able to issue a ruling.

The Secretary of State filed its original request for preclearance in July, but the department determined in September that it needed more information, specifically the racial breakdown and counties of residence of the estimated 605,500 registered voters who do not have a state-issued license or ID, and how many of them have Spanish surnames. It requested the same information for registered voters who do have valid IDs.

On October 5 the state responded by saying it did not have the requested information because it does not collect race data on voter registration applications. So instead, it submitted a list of all the Hispanic surnames in Texas, as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau. It also offered to run that list against the list of registered voters to determine how many have Hispanic names, and provided a spreadsheet showing how many registered voters resided in each county as of Sept. 16. The spreadsheet shows how many voters did not provide an ID when they registered to vote, how many voters did not provide an ID but whose records matched an ID record in the Department of Public Safety database — meaning they have been issued an ID — and those who did not provide an ID and could not be matched with a DPS record.

Though the state subsequently offered late last month to use DPS data to compile a breakdown, Wednesday’s letter implies that it has yet to submit the information.

“Although you did not indicate a date when this information would be available, you noted that the state will provide the results of its analysis as expeditiously as possible,” the letter states.

The SOS can take all the time it wants, as far as I’m concerned. The fifth of never works for me as a deadline. Of course, as many people have noted, if the SOS does ever get around to providing the data the DOJ wants, it may very well have the effect of proving the discriminatory effect that opponents of voter ID have been predicting all along. Given that, delaying and hoping for divine intervention or a sudden acceptance of their no-answer answer seems like a decent strategy.

It’s amusing that the DOJ slapped down the SOS again the same week that Republican State Rep. Patricia Harless, who had said that the DOJ’s initial request for more data was “reasonable” and that the SOS should be able to respond quickly, published a lame pro-voter ID op-ed that essentially boiled down to “it won’t suppress as many votes as the critics say” and “it polls well”. I mean, Free Ice Cream Day would probably poll well, too, but that doesn’t mean it would be good public policy. Notably, Harless snuck in a bit about how voter ID would protect us from “fraud”, but nowhere in her piece did she document any actual examples of fraud that voter ID would protect us from. We all know the reason for that, of course, but then Harless can’t exactly come out and admit that the actual purpose of voter ID is to make it harder for some people to vote, as that might sound scary. But a discriminatory law by any other name would still discriminate.

News flash: Voter ID will mean fewer people can vote

I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

As many as a quarter of voters in some small Texas counties might not be able to cast ballots if the federal government allows the new state voter ID law to go into effect.

And in some places, the potential for that decrease in the number of voters could affect the outcome of elections.

The impact of the law was gleaned from several pages of data that the Texas secretary of state’s office provided to the U.S. Department of Justice, which is reviewing the law to determine whether it illegally hurts minority voters.

The data show that in 27 of Texas’ 254 counties, at least 10 percent of the registered voters might be unable to cast ballots, if Senate Bill 14 by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, takes effect.

New flash #2: This is a feature, not a bug. If the law gets preclearance, it will do exactly what the Republicans who have been relentlessly pushing it intend for it to do. Not that they’re honest enough to admit it, of course.

Late last month, the Justice Department postponed its decision on pre-clearance. It asked the state for more information about voters. In particular, the department wanted more information on more than 600,000 registered voters whose names don’t appear in Texas databases of people with valid driver’s licenses or state-issued ID cards.

Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, urged caution in interpreting the numbers. He said at least some of the 600,000 people in question might have what they need to vote.

“It is very possible they have one of the permissible forms of ID as required by Senate Bill 14,” Parsons said. “But we don’t know.”

The data show a potentially serious situation in Presidio County in Southwest Texas.

There, as many as 25.9 of registered voters might not have the required photo ID to cast ballots. If the new law were to take effect, as many as 1,313 out of 5,066 registered voters might be unable to vote.

State Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring , who sponsored the voter ID legislation in the House, discounted the possibility that her measure would diminish some people’s votes — even in Presidio County. “I don’t think this, in any way, is going to disenfranchise anyone,” she said.

Harless said most of the people not found in DPS files would be able to vote. Maybe their licenses and voter ID cards are different because one has a maiden name and the other has a married name.

Rep. Harless, meet Dorothy Cooper. If you believe that her experience in Tennessee will not happen to people here, you are at best tragically naive. It’s clear that the Secretary of State cannot answer the questions that the DOJ has raised about this law and its obviously retrogressive effects on voting rights. The only acceptable solution is to deny it preclearance.

Voter ID passes the House

As expected. There was a long and often contentious debate, but when you have a 2/3 majority as the Republicans currently do, you usually get what you want.

Gov. Rick Perry declared the voter ID issue an emergency issue, which also ranks as a high priority for the Texas Republican Party. The House tentatively approved the measure, 101-48. Republicans control the chamber, 101-49.

Because Republicans defeated amendment after amendment intended to make it easier for voters to cast ballots, Democrats suggested Republicans were primarily interested in suppressing votes of minority Texans – who usually lean Democratic.

“We fear it’s about voter suppression,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

“It’s all about shaping the voter pool to benefit the Republican Party,” Rep. Joaquin Castro said.

Legislators spent nearly 12 hours considering some 60 amendments.

Republicans defeated an amendment that would have allowed college and high school students to use their government-issued ID cards for voting. Democrats also lost their bid to extend photo identification to same-day registration, which would allow eligible voters to simultaneously register and cast a ballot if they produced proper identification.

So you can’t use your government-issued student ID card to vote, but you can use your government-issued concealed carry license to vote. Go figure.

This isn’t quite the end in the Lege for this. As with the sonogram bill, the House and Senate versions differ – among other things, the House stripped out the Senate’s exemption for voters over the age of 70 on an amendment by Republican Rep. Dennis Bonnen – so it will have to go to a conference committee to iron it all out. Unlike the sonogram bill, the resulting legislation doesn’t need to be acceptable to any Senate Democrats, as there is no two-thirds rule for voter ID bills. I don’t expect there to be any serious complications.

As I said before, this will all ultimately be decided in the courts. The Texas Independent notes that a current case may have an effect on that, and gives some general background.

Some observers, including an Indiana law expert, believe that Pres. Barack Obama’s DOJ might be inclined to act differently than Bush’s DOJ, especially given the strictness of Texas’ legislation. Read the Texas Independent for previous reporting.

If the voter ID bill becomes law, then Texas would also have the option of bypassing the DOJ in favor of a three-judge panel in D.C. Whether the judicial panel would be more favorable than the DOJ to Texas’ law is up for speculation.

Saying that the DOJ “really should have denied preclearance” to the Georgia law — considering that DOJ staffers’ recommendation to disapprove the law was overruled by White House appointees — election law professor Daniel P. Tokaji said, “I think there’s a very good chance Texas will be denied preclearance if [voter photo ID legislation] becomes law.”

Tokaji is a professor of law at The Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. He recently wrote a commentary opposing voter photo ID legislation being considered in Ohio.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in support of Indiana’s voter photo ID law largely because opponents were unable to produce sufficient proof of voter disenfranchisement. However, as Tokaji points out, those guidelines are different for a Section 5 preclearance decision.

“In a Section 5 challenge, the covered entity actually has the burden of proving the measure will not have a retrogressive impact on minorities,” he said.

“I think there’s a very strong argument that it would violate Section 5,” Tokaji said.

Clearly, there’s much about this that’s still up in the air, and we may not know the final outcome for months, if not years. Until then, ponder this:

Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, wanted to give counties an exemption from complying with the legislation if it would cost them money to implement. Nearly 90 lawmakers have sponsored a resolution this session opposing unfunded mandates for local communities.

Menendez lost, 98-48.

Some unfunded mandates are better than others, obviously. Greg, EoW, and the Trib has more, and a statement from Democratic Caucus chair Rep. Jessica Farrar is beneath the fold.


More on the microbrew compromise

Brewed And Never Battered gives its report from the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee hearing yesterday.

Briefly on HB 602: No one expressed opposition, not even the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, who have opposed the bill in the past. There is some forthcoming compromise on that bill that apparently everyone is happy with and it looks like you’ll be able to take beer home after a brewery tour later this year.

HB 660 had a tremendous number of supporters, and the roll of names read into the record as supporters of the bill was long and impressive. Among those in support but not wishing to testify were a number of beer distributors and the Texas Restaurant Association.

As you may have read, we’ve gained the support of the other tiers through thoughtful discussion with interested stakeholders. Beer distributors were concerned about self-distribution for a business type that already sells directly to the consumer, and we understand their points. Self-distribution has been removed from the bill. We also lowered the annual limit for aggregate production to 15,000 barrels per brewpub. A number we are very comfortable with. I’m pleased that we were able to come up with a bill that all three tiers really like.

We did have one person oppose our bill, however. Keith Strama, representing the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, stood up and presented a semi-coherent rambling about how we should allow these kind of changes to the code because… well, just because. Seriously. Strama did present some other barely comprehensible argument, which was called onto the rug in short order by Committee Vice-chair Chente Quintanilla of El Paso. Video of the entire hearing, which you can find here, proves quite entertaining. Strama should have just stuck to “Uh… just because” – turns out that was a better argument than the one he was trying to make.


What’s Next.

With the WBDT exposed, the ball is back in our court. We have one or two weeks at the most to earn the votes of the committee, after that it will be too late to advance this session. Right now I think we have 4 votes. We need 5. Time to turn up the pressure and continue to urge members of the committee that this the right thing to do. Continue those calls and emails (I’ll post a sample follow up letter tomorrow).

The link to find committee members is here – you can search for the Licensing & Administrative Procedures committee, or just take my word for it that it contains the following members:

Chair: Rep. Mike Hamilton
Vice Chair: Rep. Chente Quintanilla
Members: Rep. Joe Driver, Rep. Charlie Geren, Rep. Roland Gutierrez, Rep. Patricia Harless, Rep. John Kuempel, Rep. Jose Menendez, Rep. Senfronia Thompson

It would be especially helpful for you to express your support for HBs 660 and 602 if one of these folks is your Representative. There clearly is a lot of support for this bill, but until the committee votes it out, that doesn’t mean anything. Lee Nichols has more.

The next step for voter ID

Very likely, the courthouse.

While the Democrats have little chance of stopping the bill from getting the votes to pass, this particular piece of legislation may very well be tied up in lawsuits for years. And today, Democrats can lay some of the groundwork for those future cases.

As I wrote when the Senate passed this piece of legislation, this particular voter ID bill would be the most stringent in the nation—more stringent, even, than the Indiana bill that it’s based on. Currently, it only allows five forms of photo identification and only exempts people over 70. The Indiana law allows student IDs from state universities to count—our version doesn’t. And while the Indiana version gives folks missing suitable ID ten days after they voted to bring it in, the Texas version only gives voters six days. Many worry the bill would suppress voter turnout, particularly among the poor and black and Latino voters. In fact, the legislation is so dramatic that after it passed the Senate, I called Wendy Weiser, the director of Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. In addition to having one of the better titles I’ve heard, Weiser is an expert on voting rights.

Weiser said Texas was going to have a tough time implementing the law—despite the widespread legislative support. That’s because our fine state is one of seven singled out in the Voting Rights Act Section 5. Thanks to our history of discriminatory election law—poll taxes, literacy tests, etc. the Voting Rights Act requires that we get the okay from the Department of Justice or the courts before implementing certain changes to our election law, a process known as “preclearance.”

Because of its stringency, this bill will undoubtedly get a close look—and Weiser said that the legislative debate around the bill can play a role in determining whether or not it violatese the Voting Rights Act. For instance, if the Legislature rejects amendments that would make it easier for certain groups to obtain IDs, that could send up red flags for the Department of Justice. The legislative debate, Weiser said, “is relevant the extent to which the state takes proactive efforts to make sure that law is not excluding groups.”

This would be why GOP Caucus Chair Larry Taylor wanted Democrats to keep quiet and allow the bill to pass as it inevitably would without any fuss. This would also be why it’s never a good idea to take advice from your political counterparts. Fortunately, the Democrats are smart enough to recognize this for what it is, and in the end they stalled the House vote for at least a day via a point of order. That sent the bill back to the Calendars committee, where this issue was fixed and the bill voted out again, so the process can repeat itself as early as Wednesday. This would also be why Governor Perry declared voter ID and all those other silly, pointless things “emergency” items: It put them at the front of the calendar, which leaves sufficient time to correct errors like this one, which was about “days” versus “business days”. Later on in the session, what kills these bills isn’t necessarily the point of order but the lack of time to go through committee again.

Anyway. Greg does his usual bang-up job of liveblogging, which you need to read to understand just how ridiculous this exercise is. Stace, Eileen, Texas Politics, TrailBlazers, and Postcards have more.

Lawrence looking at Commissioners Court

Something I’d realized recently is that almost everyone in city government who is or would have been term-limited out is running or has run for another office. Mayor White is running for Senate. City Controller Annise Parker is running for Mayor. Council members Ronald Green, Pam Holm, and MJ Khan are running for City Controller. Former member Adrian Gonzalez was in his last term when he got elected Sheriff last year. The odd one out was Toni Lawrence, but that may not be the case any more.

So we hear current City Council Member Toni Lawrence is eying her next move, possibly toward County Commissioner. Multiple people have told me that Lawrence is seriously considering running for Commissioner Jerry Eversole’s seat, whenever that becomes available. She has already begun privately gauging support. Contacted last night, Lawrence said it was definitely something she is looking at. This apparently, after another formidable female elected official decided to take a pass at the seat… again, whenever it becomes available, which of course, it’s currently NOT.

Perhaps the FBI will step in and make CM Lawrence’s decision easier for her, though given that she just moved into the precinct, barely in time to be qualified for the ballot, perhaps she’s already decided. In any event, an open County Commissioners Court seat is one of the ultimate prizes in our government, and if Eversole jumps or gets pushed out of the race you can be sure it’ll be a free-for-all to replace him. I’m confident there will be some Democrats in that mix as well; I know there are recruitment efforts going on now. Certainly, as a challenge to an incumbent, even one like Eversole, it’s a steep climb. I don’t recall the exact numbers offhand, but CC Precinct 4 is redder than Precinct 3 – it’s slightly on the Republican side of 60/40, so any Dem would be a heavy underdog, even in an open seat. Still, you can’t pass something like this up, and if the stars line up and you hit the jackpot, it’s huge.

Oh, anyone have a clue who the “formidable female elected official” that declined to run might be? Leave a comment and let me know.

UPDATE: Stace has more, and his post suggests former City Council member Addie Wiseman as a potential candidate.

UPDATE: I’ve received some feedback that that the “formidable female elected official” in question is State Rep. Patricia Harless, who was in line to be appointed to the seat in the event that Eversole resigned. The word now is that Eversole will stay till the end of his term, and Harless will run for re-election to the State House.