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provisional ballots

HD108 recount begins

I believe this is the last un-conceded race.

Joanna Cattanach

The recount for an extremely tight Dallas County race between incumbent Republican Morgan Meyer and Democratic challenger Joanna Cattanach will begin Tuesday.

“We appreciate all of the notes of support and emails, the volunteers who’ve stepped up to serve as poll watchers, and thank you to those who’ve donated to help our effort to ensure every vote counts and every vote matters in House District 108,” Cattanach, who requested the recount, said in an email to supporters Monday afternoon.

[…]

On Tuesday at 9 a.m., county officials will begin a by-hand recount which could take several days. Election Day ballots will be counted first and mail ballots will be counted after that. These two ballots will be counted first because they are a mix of electronic and by-hand ballots.

Early voting in-person ballots, which were done electronically, will be counted last. Those electronic records will be counted by hand and are expected to total more than 67,000 pages to print, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

But if the victory gap doesn’t shrink after the Election Day and mail ballots are counted, Cattanach could choose to end the recount then, since the electronic ballots are not expected to change. Cattanach, who has already put down a deposit of $7,000, would have to pay more money if she decided to go forward with the full recount.

If the election results changed, however, Cattanach would be refunded her deposit and the county would pay for the recount.

See here, here, and here for the background. Cattanach trails by 440 votes out of over 78K cast. You know I never expect recounts to change anything, but it’s a candidate’s right in a close election, and this is a close election. There were some others that were even closer, and I’m a bit surprised this is the only recount on the table, but here we are. I’ll keep my eye on it.

Ortiz Jones concedes in CD23

Thus endeth that race.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones conceded Monday in her challenge to U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, ensuring a third term for Hurd in his perennial battleground district.

“While we came up short this time, we ran a race of which we can be proud,” Jones said in a statement. “I remain committed to serving my community and country, and I wish Will Hurd the courage to fight for TX-23 in the way in which our district deserves.”

Her statement comes nearly two weeks after the election. Hurd has consistently led Jones by roughly 1,000 votes or more out of about 209,000 cast, but she had been holding out hope and pushing to make sure all outstanding ballots were counted.

Jones had been particularly concerned with provisional ballots, or ballots that were cast when there was a question about a voter’s eligibility. Last week, Jones’ campaign went to court to try to force Bexar County to hand over a list of such voters before the Tuesday deadline for them to resolve their issues. The campaign also sought a 48-hour extension of that deadline. Both requests were denied.

More recently, Jones’ campaign had turned its attention to Medina County, which had been set to canvass its results Thursday but postponed the decision until Monday morning due to an unclear issue. Jones’ concession came after Medina County completed the rescheduled canvass.

As I’ve said before, if you had told me a few months ago that two of the CD 07/23/32 trio would go Democratic but not the third, I would have ranked the “CD23 remains Republican” as by far the least likely to occur. You have to hand it to Will Hurd, who has now ridden out two very tough elections in which he was a top target. I just get the feeling that no one – well, no one outside of Will Hurd’s campaign team – understands this district. The polling we had was way off base. Democrats made huge strides forward all around the state, yet in the one district drawn to be a tossup they couldn’t move the ball the two or three points needed to win. Maybe this district is just fundamentally different than the others. Maybe the turnout here didn’t skew as Democratic as you might have expected, but could be there in 2020. Maybe the Beto-and-Hurd road show from early in the year gave Hurd enough cover with indies and soft Dems. Maybe Ortiz Jones just couldn’t seal the deal. Who knows? What I do know is that we need to figure it out, because CD23 is still the best pickup opportunity for 2020, even if it’s no longer the only one. I thank Gina Ortiz Jones for her candidacy, and I hope we can build on it next time.

An update on the close races

Good news from Harris County.

Gina Calanni

Fresh tallies of absentee and provisional ballots narrowed state Rep. Dwayne Bohac’s margin over Democrat Adam Milasincic to 47 votes, while incumbent Republican Mike Schofield of Katy trailed Democratic challenger Gina Calanni by 113 votes.

Harris County Commissioners Court will make the results official Friday, according to the county clerk’s office. Candidates may request a recount if they trail by less than 10 percent of the total number of votes received by the leading candidate, meaning both races are well within the requisite margin.

As it stood Thursday, Bohac’s lead amounted to less than one tenth of a percent, out of 48,417 votes. Calanni led by a more comfortable .17 percent, among 66,675 votes. Election night returns had showed Bohac leading by 72 votes and Calanni up by 97 votes.

Either way, the results mark a dramatic shift from 2014, when Schofield and Bohac, R-Houston, last faced Democratic foes. That year, the two Republicans won by more than 30 percentage points, each roughly doubling their opponents’ vote totals.

[…]

In the 108th House District, Democrat Joanna Cattanach requested a recount Wednesday, the Dallas Morning News reported. She trailed incumbent state Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, by 221 votes, according to Dallas County elections results updated Wednesday.

In Collin County, state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, led Democrat Sharon Hirsch by 391 votes in the 66th House District, according to the county’s elections site. Hirsch had not conceded as of Thursday morning.

Cattanach is the first candidate to request a recount, but she won’t be the last. Expect her to have some company after the results around the state are certified Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in CD23:

The political roller coaster in Congressional District 23 continued Thursday when Gina Ortiz Jones’ campaign turned its attention to election officials in Medina County.

Commissioners in Medina declined to certify the county’s results, temporarily raising the possibility of a recount in the Republican stronghold. The commissioners were given two different figures for the number of absentee voters — 1,034 and 1,010.

Jones trails incumbent Republican Will Hurd by around 1,000 votes in the race, which remains too close to call.

There’s no other choice but for this department to have a recount,” Republican Commissioner Tim Neuman said after finding the variation.

But a couple hours later, Medina Elections Administrator Lupe Torres said they were able to identify the discrepancy and would reschedule the canvassing for Monday, a plan Neuman said he agreed with.

[…]

On Thursday, the [Jones] campaign accused Medina County of breaching protocol after counting 981 mail ballots on election night. Early voting ballot boards are the small, bipartisan groups charged with reviewing and qualifying those ballots, along with provisional votes.

At the end of the night, the ballot board usually turns off the machine it used to count the ballots, as is protocol, according to affidavits from the two Democratic-appointed board members, which the campaign provided.

Instead, Torres told them to leave the machine running. Torres told them he needed to run 29 “limited” ballots through the machine, bringing the number to 1,010.

Limited ballots are cast by people who have recently moved from another county but have not switched their registration.

Torres initially denied those claims, but he later said he would “correct himself” and admitted it happened. When asked why about the denials, he said: “That’s what I thought had happened.

I don’t even know what to make of that. Just add it to the weirdness pile for this election. We’ll know more soon.

Ortiz Jones requests more time for provisional ballots

She did not succeed, however.

Gina Ortiz Jones

A Bexar County judge denied a request by Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, who trails incumbent Republican Will Hurd by a few hundred votes in the race for the most competitive congressional district in Texas, to extend by 48 hours the deadline to make official provisional ballots.

Jones, who is vying to represent Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, which spans West Texas from the east side of El Paso to the west side of San Antonio, filed the motion in an effort to close the gap between her and Hurd in one of the most closely watched races in the midterm elections.

A week after Election Day, Jones said Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen had not made public the list of provisional voters in the race, making it difficult for voters to ensure their ballots officially counted.

“We’ve had issues in Bexar County providing information that should be a matter of public record,” Jones said in a news conference. “This includes the list of folks that voted via provisional ballot.”

Jones said her campaign won an order from Bexar County Judge Rosie Alvarado on Monday night to force the county’s elections administrator to turn over the list of provisional voters. Tuesday morning, Jones said the county had not done that and her team had filed another complaint in county court to compel the elections administrator to do so. Jones’ team filed an emergency court motion Tuesday asking for a 48-hour extension for the 5 p.m. deadline to make provisional ballots official.

“This is about making sure that every vote is counted,” Jones said.

That motion was denied Tuesday by Bexar County Judge Stephani Walsh, meaning that county election officials will only have to work with the provisional ballots that had been validated by 5 p.m. Tuesday. Military ballots from overseas would be accepted until 7 p.m. The county will continue to tally those votes in the following days.

See here for the background and here for a copy of the motion. I guess we’ll find out provisional votes have been accepted will be added into the count – as noted yesterday, the Bexar County count added a few votes to Ortiz Jones’ total, but not enough to make it look like she had a serious chance of catching up. The race is close enough that there will probably be a recount, but in the end I expect the result as it stands now will be affirmed. The Rivard Report has more.

CD23 update

Today is the last day to cure a provisional ballot. In the meantime, the counting goes on in the closest Texas Congressional race.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Election officials in 29 Texas counties are furiously counting outstanding votes in the Congressional District 23 election, in which Republican Rep. Will Hurd holds a narrow lead with at least 859 ballots outstanding.

Hurd, a two-term incumbent, thought he had a comfortable win Tuesday night, when the Associated Press called the race for him around 11 p.m.

But the contest tightened in the early morning hours Wednesday, and it appeared — for a half-hour — that Democratic challenger Gina Ortiz Jones had pulled off an upset.

Then the lead changed hands again, and the state’s unofficial results showed Hurd winning by 689 votes. Later Wednesday, a tabulation error in Jones’ favor was discovered in Culberson County. Once the error was corrected, Hurd’s margin had increased to 1,150 votes — out of more than 200,000 cast.

[…]

On Friday, Bexar County — which accounts for more than half the votes in the district — updated its tally to reflect 446 ballots counted since election night. Hurd received 183, Jones 253 and Libertarian candidate Ruben Corvalan 10.

Jones gained a net 70 votes, reducing Hurd’s overall margin to 1,080.

Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said there’s been a steady stream of lawyers and campaign workers at the county’s Elections Department asking questions about the uncounted ballots.

“We haven’t seen so many lawyers in here since forever,” she said.

At least 859 ballots are still outstanding, according to county elections officials across the district, but it’s unclear how many will ultimately be included in the final count.

See here for some background. The SOS still shows Hurd with a 1,150 vote lead, but as you can see the Bexar County elections page shows more votes counted, so the SOS page is a bit out of date. Ortiz Jones is pushing for more information about the provisional voters, though Bexar County officials say they’re just following the rules about what can and cannot be disclosed at this time. I still don’t expect there the be enough uncounted votes to make it likely that she could catch up, but we’ll know soon enough.

In the meantime, the HD138 and HD108 races remain in contention, while Gina Calanni’s lead in HD132 has increased to 97 votes. Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Carol Donovan put out a statement yesterday about the HD108 race that included this curious bit:

One of the hold-ups is caused by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. Though Texas law allows people to register to vote when renewing their drivers license, the DMV is notorious for sitting on these registrations and failing to turn them in to the election department of the counties in which they operate. Without this documentation, the local election departments are unable to determine if certain provisional ballots should be counted. In Dallas County, it is estimated that approximately 1,000 provisional ballots are being held, pending the documentation from the DMV. This number is significantly higher than the number of votes that separate the candidates in House District 108.

Not really sure what to make of that, but as I said, we should at least get some official numbers by the end of the day today. Stay tuned.

How many recounts might there be?

More than one, is my guess.

Rep. Morgan Meyer

On Wednesday, Dallas state Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Republican, tweeted that he was “honored and grateful” voters had decided to send him back to the Texas Legislature for another term in office.

But his Democratic opponent in the race, Joanna Cattanach, isn’t ready to concede in House District 108, which includes Park Cities, Uptown Dallas, parts of downtown and Old East Dallas.

[…]

In Houston, Republican state Rep. Dwayne Bohac inched ahead of Democratic challenger Adam Milasincic on election night with 137 votes. Milasincic, too, is waiting on all votes to come in.

“I want to see the final numbers before we make any determination one way or another,” Milasincic said, adding that he hadn’t expected the count to draw out this long.

In Houston, Republican state Rep. Dwayne Bohac inched ahead of Democratic challenger Adam Milasincic on election night with 137 votes. Milasincic, too, is waiting on all votes to come in.

“I want to see the final numbers before we make any determination one way or another,” Milasincic said, adding that he hadn’t expected the count to draw out this long.

“I wish it had been over on election night,” he said.

In Collin County, state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, with 378 more votes in unofficial returns, declared victory over Democrat Sharon Hirsch.

But Hirsch posted a message on her website noting the close margin and adding that she is “waiting until this process concludes before making any final remarks.”

[…]

State Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Houston, who trailed Democrat Gina Calanni by 49 votes, told his supporters on social media Thursday morning that “Tuesday’s results are not final yet.”

“The Harris County Clerk advises me that there are many votes yet to be counted — more absentee ballots and provisional ballots. We will continue to wait for a final vote count.”

And of course there’s the still-unsettled CD23 race. Meyer leads Cattanach by 440 votes, which is the widest margin of the it-ain’t-over-till-it’s-over State Rep races. I can’t think of an example of a race that was materially affected by overseas and provisional ballots – my impression is that such votes tend to be countable on one’s fingers – but I suppose there has to be a first time at some point. The last successful recount that I can think of was the 2004 Dem primary between Henry Cuellar and Ciro Rodriguez, in which a bunch of ballots were found after Election Day. This is all part of the process and people are entitled to ask for recounts. I just don’t ever expect them to change anything.

The CD23 race isn’t quite over yet

I believe it is highly unlikely that the outcome in CD23 will change from the current close win for Rep. Will Hurd, but we are not done counting the votes just yet.

Gina Ortiz Jones

The Texas congressional race between incumbent Republican Will Hurd and Democratic challenger Gina Ortiz Jones is still too close to call following a dramatic overnight in which Ortiz Jones pulled ahead, Hurd pulled back on top, and news outlets across the nation retracted their projections.

On Wednesday morning in Congressional District 23, the state’s only consistent battleground district, Hurd was leading Ortiz Jones by 689 votes, with all precincts counted.

“This election is not over—every vote matters,” said Noelle Rosellini, a spokesperson for Ortiz Jones. “We won’t stop working until every provisional ballot, absentee ballot, and military or overseas ballot has been counted.”

She did not mention the possibility of a recount, although Ortiz Jones’ campaign is well within the margin to do so in Texas. (According to state law, the difference in votes between the top two finishers must be less than 10 percent of the winner’s total votes — in this case, about 10,000.)

But that did not keep Hurd from declaring victory. “I’m proud to have won another tough reelection in the 23rd Congressional District of Texas,” he said in a statement on Wednesday morning, noting that he would be the only Texas Republican to keep his seat in a district carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

[…]

Many news outlets, including The Texas Tribune, called the race for Hurd late on Tuesday evening, with Hurd declaring victory on Twitter and in person to his supporters at a watch party in San Antonio as Ortiz Jones conceded defeat across town.

“While it didn’t shake out the way we would want, we ran a campaign that we are proud of and that really reflected Texas values,” Ortiz Jones said at her campaign headquarters, according to the San Antonio News-Express. Her campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

But as more vote totals kept coming in, she surpassed Hurd by a margin of fewer than 300 votes with all precincts reporting. Early on Wednesday morning, news organizations withdrew their call of the race and Hurd deleted a tweet saying he won.

But vote totals from the last of eight Medina County precincts were inputted incorrectly — they had left out about 4000 votes when first entering totals. The fixed results put Hurd just over Ortiz Jones by a margin of fewer than 700 votes.

See here for some background. The current tally has Hurd up by 1,150 votes now, out of 209,058 votes cast. Apparently, a second county erred in how they initially reported their results, in a way that had inflated Ortiz Jones’ total. Late-arriving mail and provisional ballots still need to be counted, though usually there are not that many of them. I’d like to see a more thorough review of what exactly happened in Medina County, but beyond that I don’t think there’s much joy to be found here.

This race was a bit confounding well before any votes came in. The NYT/Siena College live polls had Hurd up by eight points in September and a whopping fifteen points in October. The NRCC pulled out around the time early voting started, presumably from a feeling of confidence in the race, then a lot of late money poured in, presumably in response to the off-the-charts turnout. I had faith this would be a close race, as it always is, but I had no idea what to make of all this.

In the end, the story of this race appears to come down to found counties. Compare the 2018 results to the 2016 results, in which Hurd defeated Pete Gallego in a rematch by about 3000 votes, and you see this:

– In Bexar County, Ortiz Jones improved on Gallego’s performance by 5000 votes, while Hurd received about 4500 votes less than he did in 2016. In theory, that should have been more than enough to win her the race.

– However, in El Paso, Maverick, and Val Verde counties, Hurd got nearly identical vote totals as he had in 2016, while Ortiz Jones underperformed Gallego by 3000, 2500, and 1200 votes, respectively. That was enough to put Hurd back into positive territory.

There was some float in the other counties, but these four told the main story. Both candidates had slightly lower vote totals than in 2016, and indeed Ortiz Jones got a larger share of the Gallego vote than 2018 Hurd did of 2016 Hurd. It just wasn’t quite enough.

Today is the last day to cure a provisional ballot

If you voted provisionally during the primary because you did not have an accepted form of ID in your possession when you voted, you need to “cure” your provisional ballot in order for it to be counted. From the inbox:

If a voter possesses an acceptable form of photo ID but does not have it at the polling place, the voter will still be permitted to vote provisionally. The voter will have six (6) days to present an acceptable form of photo identification to the county voter registrar, or fill out the natural disaster affidavit referenced in the Exemption/Exceptions section below, or the voter’s ballot will be rejected.

Alternatively, a voter who possesses an acceptable form of photo ID but does not have it at the polling place may choose to leave the polling place and return before the close of the polls on election day with said acceptable form of photo ID to, if the voter would otherwise qualify, vote a regular ballot at that time.

If you need more information on the cure process

CLICK HERE

or contact the Harris County Tax Office Voter Registrar Division at 713-274-VOTE (8683) for assistance.

Simply put, if you cast a provisional ballot, you need to get yourself to one of the Harris County Tax Assessor offices and show an accepted form of ID there for your ballot to count. Today is the deadline for that. To find a location, go to the Tax Assessor webpage and scroll down to the map of branch office locations. If you’re in a county other than Harris, do the same thing at your county’s elections office –
find your county’s elections page for that information. Today is the deadline for this, so act now if you voted provisionally. This only applies if you did not have an accepted form of ID when you voted. If you have any questions, call the Harris County Tax Office Voter Registrar Division at 713-274-VOTE (8683) for assistance.

Chris Suprun’s eventful year in voting

How weird is this?

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The self-described “voting addict” was an apparent casualty of the confusion amid legal wrangling over the state’s 2011 voter ID law.

Now, [Texas Republican elector Chris] Suprun is calling for courts to clarify the rules once and for all.

“Pick a course and run with it,” he urged U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, of Corpus Christi, in a letter dated Dec. 21.

“I write this because after not being able to cast a ballot I was disheartened,” the letter said. “I never missed an election in my life until this one.”

In July, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas’ voter ID law discriminated against voters in minority groups less likely to possess one of seven accepted types of identification. The state has appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Ramos is weighing whether Texas discriminated on purpose.

Ahead of the November election, Ramos ordered a temporary fix: Folks without ID could still vote if they presented an alternate form of ID and signed a form swearing a “reasonable impediment” kept them from obtaining photo ID.

That’s why Suprun believed he could vote when he showed up to an early voting location in Glenn Heights on Oct. 26, even though he did not have photo ID.

Suprun said his driver’s license was inside his wallet, which he had left in a family van that was away for repairs. He said he arrived at the polls carrying his city water bill, cable bill and voter registration card — documents that should have fit Ramos’ softened rules.

But the on-site election judge turned Suprun away, saying he could not cast a ballot — even a provisional one — without photo ID, according to a complaint the elector filed with Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos’ office.

Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for that office, said she could not confirm that any complaint was being investigated. Nor could Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, his spokeswoman said.

Could Suprun have legally voted under such circumstances? That’s where it gets tricky. Ramos’ order barred poll workers from asking would-be voters why they did not have photo ID. Election judges were to allow voting as long as the otherwise eligible voter signed a form swearing that they could not “reasonably obtain” photo ID.

But had Suprun signed that form and voted, an investigation (however unlikely one might be) might have found that he had “reasonably” obtained an ID but just hadn’t brought it with him.

Whichever the case, Suprun said his story shows that Texas needs clearer voting requirements for the next election — regardless of whether they involve photo identification.

See here for more about Suprun, and here for the last update on the voter ID case. I can’t understand why Suprun’s situation would not be seen as a “reasonable impediment”, and even if you think it isn’t, I don’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to cast a provisional ballot. At the very least, that seems to be an abject failure of the so-called voter ID education outreach that the state was supposed to do. I of course believe that the law should be thrown out in its entirety, but surely we can agree that Suprun’s call for the rules to be made clear and the state to get its act together is worthy.

HD105 race remains unresolved

I hadn’t realized this was still an open question.

Terry Meza

Terry Meza

The ballots are still out in the race for Texas House district 105 between Republican Rep. Rodney Anderson and Democratic challenger Terry Meza.

The race for the west Dallas County seat remained virtually tied during Election Night. The incumbent Anderson leads by 120 votes with all precincts reporting.

Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole said the county still has 368 provisional ballots and 11 overseas ballots yet to arrive to be counted. The overseas ballots have until Monday to arrive at the elections office.

HD105 was in the second tier of legislative races I was watching on Tuesday. Only HD107, also in Dallas County, was won by a Dem, pending the outcome here. Making up a 120-vote deficit with 379 total votes left to count seems like a steep hill to climb, but if provisional voters are more likely to be Democrats, then it’s at least possible. For what it’s worth, Anderson led after early voting, but Meza led by almost 1000 votes on Election Day, thus making this a nail-biter. I’d say the odds of this one flipping are low, but not quite zero. Whatever does happen, a recount seems likely as well. We’ll see what happens when the race is officially canvassed.

New affidavit procedure implemented for HD120 special election runoff

Seems likely this is what we’re going to get for November.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Now before the Court comes the Consent Motion for Entry of Temporary Remedial Order, filed on July 23, 2016. The Court has considered the motion and determined that it should be GRANTED.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the Motion for Entry of Temporary Remedial Order is GRANTED.

LIMITED INTERIM RELIEF

With regard to the special election for Texas House District No. 120 on August 2, 2016, with early voting to begin on July 25, 2016, if a voter seeking to cast a ballot appears on the official list ofregistered voters but does not possess an acceptable form of photo ID due to a reasonable impediment, the following steps shall be taken by the election officer to allow the voter to cast a provisional ballot:

  • Provide the Reasonable Impediment Affidavit form, attached as Exhibit B, or a Spanish language translation thereof, to the voter, and ask the voter to provide one of the following forms of identification:
    a. A valid voter registration certificate, or
    b. A current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name of the voter.
  • If the voter does not have one of the above forms of identification, they must provide their date of birth and the last four digits of their social security number in the space provided on the Reasonable Impediment Affidavit form.
  • Ask the voter to complete this form by entering their name, address, and, where applicable, date of birth, and last four digits of their social security number, and then ask them to review the “Voter’s Affldavit of Reasonable Impediment,” indicate their impediment, and sign their name.
  • Ask the voter to return the completed form to the election judge. The election judge should indicate at the bottom of the form what type of identification the voter provided. The election judge whould enter the date and sign in the space provided.
  • Provide the “Affidavit ofProvisional Voter” envelope to the voter, and ask them to complete the voter portion on the front side of the envelope.
  • Ask the voter to return the completed envelope, and on the reverse side, the election judge shall complete their portion. The election judge should mark “Other” and indicate that the voter is casting a provisional ballot due to a reasonable impediment. The election judge should enter the date and sign in the space provided.
  • Staple the Reasonable Impediment Affidavit form to the “Affidavit of Provisional Voter” envelope, and the voter shall proceed to cast a provisional ballot.

Upon confirmation that the “Affidavit of Provisional Voter” envelope is complete and that the Reasonable Impediment Affidavit is attached, the ballot shall be counted by the provisional balloting board unless there is conclusive evidence that the affiant is not the person in whose name the ballot is cast.

The Secretary of State will provide the Reasonable Impediment Affidavit form to the Bexar County Elections District for distribution to election officials.

Link via Rick Hasen. This is more or less what we expected after the parameters for “softening” Texas’ voter ID law after the Fifth Circuit ruling was handed down. This order specifies that both sides may still “seek or oppose future orders of relief”, so just because this is the process that the handful of people who will vote in the essentially meaningless runoff for the HD120 special election doesn’t mean it is what we’ll get for November. For that, District Court Judge Nelva Ramos has requested briefs from both sides by August 5, with a hearing on August 17, and a ruling to presumably follow in short order. Early voting for that HD120 runoff happens this week, so we may get a bit of real world data on how this solution works, though given the low stakes of that election and the likelihood of miniscule turnout, I wouldn’t expect much. The briefs and the hearing will tell us what we should expect. The Lone Star Projectand the Trib have more.

UPDATE: From Texas Lawyer:

On July 21, Matt Frederick, the deputy Solicitor General of Texas, responded to the court’s inquiry about any possible appeal of the Fifth Circuit ruling by stating that Texas did not intend to seek a Supreme Court review “at this time.”

[…]

[Deuel Ross, assistant counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who represents plaintiffs challenging the Texas voter ID law], said the challengers were “satisfied” with the voter identification rules that Ramos has established for the Bexar County special election.

“We think the relief is appropriate,” he said.

Kayleigh Lovvorn, a spokeswoman for the Texas Attorney General, said in an email about the state’s plan to response to the Fifth Circuit ruling: “At this time, we are in discussions with the plaintiffs and are evaluating all of our options.”

We’ll see if they come to an agreement for November.

George Scott hangs on after recount

A win by six votes is still very much a win.

George Scott

George Scott

A longtime Katy ISD board member conceded defeat Tuesday to a district critic in a closely watched race after a recount did not show him closing the narrow margin.

Trustee Joe Adams’ concession means that conservative blogger George Scott will be joining the board of the fast-growing suburban district west of Houston.

Adams has served on the board for 27 years.

Two four-member counting committees began recounting votes at 9 a.m. Tuesday. After mail-in ballots were recounted and votes did not swing Adams’ way, the incumbent conceded the race, not waiting for electronic votes to be recounted.

Before the recount, the district had said unofficial results showed Scott had defeated Adams by three votes out of nearly 3,000 votes cast. The recount showed Scott with 1479 votes to Adams’ 1473.

[…]

Scott blamed Adams for a lack of leadership on the board, though he softened his tone on Tuesday.

“Joe conducted himself with class and dignity in every way he interacted with me. He had a right to a recount,” Scott said Tuesday. “Obviously, I’m very excited. The issues that I campaigned on have not changed … but today is not about the issues. Today is about this incredible process.”

See here and here for the background. Scott had started with a three-vote lead, which expanded to six as the absentee ballots were counted and led to Adams’ concession. Scott’s swearing in date has not been announced, but he has been in attendance at recent board meetings, so I’m sure he’ll hit the ground running. Covering Katy, which includes a statement by Scott in the comments to their story, has more.

George Scott holds on in Katy ISD race

Every vote matters, y’all.

George Scott

George Scott

A longtime critic of the Katy Independent School District has ousted a 27-year incumbent from the board of trustees, winning by three votes out of nearly 3,000 cast, according to unofficial total results announced Friday.

Conservative blogger George Scott received 1475 votes to Trustee Joe Adams’ 1,472 votes, district officials said Friday. The final tally came six days after election day results left the Position 1 race too close to call.

Results will become official when the seven-member board canvasses them at a meeting Wednesday. Scott would be sworn in at the May 23 board meeting, along with Trustee Rebecca Fox, who was re-elected earlier this month.

Scott’s victory signals a major shift for the district. Adams is a widely recognized figure in the Katy area and has served on the board of directors for the Texas Association of School Boards.

A former media liaison for the Harris County Appraisal District and past publisher of The Katy Times newspaper, Scott has for years questioned the board’s fiscal decisions, transparency to the public and deference to Superintendent Alton Frailey, who is retiring this summer.

Scott contended that trustees became too influenced by Frailey and hadn’t held him sufficiently accountable. He criticized the district’s push for a $62.5 million stadium, a project that still divides the community because of its price tag. It is now being built alongside an existing one and is set to open next year.

In challenging Adams, Scott suggested that the incumbent had become complacent. Scott said voters heard that message.

“I’ve been a very strong critic, but my goal is to try and work with the other board members,” Scott, 66, said Thursday, a day before the final results were announced. “Can we agree that the district can do a better job with communication to the media and public? Can we hold the superintendent more accountable? I want those talks to be professional.”

Scott was ahead by seven votes with 14 provisional ballots to review and the possibility of overseas ballots still to come. Adams would have needed to net eight votes, which would be an 11-3 win on provisionals if they all counted. In the end, eight of those ballots were counted and Adams won them 6-2, but pending any recounts, Scott wins by a nose.

Covering Katy, which provided the details on the provisional ballots, also provides a peek at how first-time candidate Scott ousted the nine-term incumbent.

Even though it was a very close election, it was not easy to beat a man who has been re-elected nine times in a row. Scott won by running “a flawless campaign,” according to supporter A.D. Muller, who has worked as an advisor on numerous campaigns in Katy, including Scott’s campaign.

“I’ve never seen a Katy school board race with zero mistakes until this one, and I’ve never seen such an unconventional race as Scott has run this year,” Muller said.

Among the unconventional tactics Scott used was spending no money on campaign signs, until the very end of the campaign. Instead, Scott spent all of his advertising budget with Covering Katy during much of the campaign. Later in the campaign he also used direct mail.

“People thought I was crazy, but I know everyone reads Covering Katy,” Scott said. “I did not have a big budget. My choice was buy yard signs or buy a great advertising position on Covering Katy. The decision to go digital instead of traditional was a no-brainer for me. I had to constantly tell my supporters to trust me. They thought I was crazy because no one had ever run a successful campaign without yard signs,” Scott said.

“I didn’t buy a single campaign sign until the very end when a supporter said he’d donate to my campaign if the money was used for yard signs, so I bought some signs,” Scott said. Otherwise, he said he would not have purchased any signs.

Weather played in Scotts favor too. When the recent flooding hit Katy it spiked Covering Katy’s page views, meaning Scott’s advertisement was seen nearly 800,000 times in the last four weeks of the campaign.

Meanwhile, Joe Adams ignored Covering Katy. He would not provide a phone number or email address to be contacted for stories on the election. He never personally responded to any requests for interviews or comments.

Scott recognized Adams’ mistake and saw an opening. He provided Covering Katy with a barrage of big name endorsements, which bought him credibility with many Katy newcomers who didn’t know his background as a former member of the Harris County Hospital District, a staffer with the Harris County Appraisal District and the former owner of The Katy News.

Scott also quietly made amends with people he’d criticized on his blog George Scott Reports. Known for his slash and burn commentaries, Scott criticized people on all ends of the political spectrum. At the start of the campaign he needed to know if those he criticized would turn against him during the campaign. He visited with them and was surprised to find almost every person said they’d support him, some key people even endorsed his campaign publicly.

“At times during this campaign I’ve wondered what did I do to deserve this type of support after being so critical of these folks over the years,” Scott said. “I told them I’d understand if they told me no, but they all felt I’d do a good job on the school board and pledged their support. I’ve been supported by a lot of good people, and I appreciate what they’ve done for this campaign,” Scott said.

There’s more, and it’s worth the read. Small campaigns like this are just different than large ones, and there’s nothing that substitutes for personal contact from a candidate, which you can do much more easily in a campaign of that scale. I know a few campaign professionals who are nodding their heads vigorously at the bit about not spending money on yard signs. Anyway, as someone who appreciated George’s writing on property tax issues, I’m glad to see he won. Congratulations, and best of luck with the new gig.

Jarvis Johnson wins HD139 special election

For whatever it turns out to be worth.

Jarvis Johnson

Jarvis Johnson

Houston voters on Saturday selected Jarvis D. Johnson to fill the remainder of the unexpired term of former District 139 State Representative Sylvester Turner, now mayor of Houston.

Johnson, a former Houston city councilman, defeated Rickey “Raykay” Tezino in Saturday’s race, according to unofficial results. He was the only challenger.

Johnson will serve until at least January. To hold on to the position past that point, Johnson will have to defeat Kimberly Willis in a May 24 special election.

Willis, a social worker and community activist, did not choose to compete in Saturday’s bid to fill Turner’s unexpired term, instead focusing her efforts on the May 24 match up. Primary runoff elections in judicial, sheriff’s and constable races will also be held that day.

Here are the election returns from the Secretary of State. As you can see, the story does not convey the magnitude of Johnson’s win, which was with over 83% of the vote. Of course, that was 83% of 1,836 total votes, so as landslides go it was fairly modest in scope. It’s the election on May 24 that really matters. If Johnson wins that, he gets a head start on all the other freshman legislators-to-be. If not, he’s just another footnote.

Here are the HD120 special election results as well, in which two people who will not be a part of the 2017 Legislature will now go to a runoff to decide who gets to be called “Representative” for a few months. I pity everyone involved in that endeavor.

In other news, here are the election results from Fort Bend County. Of interest are the city of Richmond ballot propositions. As noted in that Chron story above, Proposition 1, to increase the number of city commissioners, passed by a large margin, with over 82% voting in favor. Prop 2, for single member districts, failed by a 47-53 tally.

And finally, every election has at least one reminder that every vote counts. Here’s this election’s reminder:

The Katy School Board Race between Joe Adams and George Scott will not be decided until Friday when provisional ballots are examined, and when additional military ballots could arrive in the mail.

When the votes were tallied on Saturday night George Scott was ahead of incumbent Joe Adams by seven votes. Scott had 1,473 votes to Adams 1,466 but there are 12 provisional ballots that need further examination. That examination will happen on Friday according to Scott. Friday is also the deadline for military ballots.

Seven votes, y’all. I couldn’t find an official election returns page, so I’ll assume that this story is accurate, and I’ll keep my eyes open for a followup on Friday. In the meantime, my tentative congratulations to George Scott for the win.

Simpson prevails in SD01 primary

All elections are now officially resolved, at least at the state level.

Rep. David Simpson

Two state representatives are set to face off for an open seat in the Texas senate after the third place candidate said Monday he will not request a recount.

After days of uncertainty with a razor thin margin separating the two candidates, a finalized canvass of the vote in the Senate District 1 Republican primary confirmed that state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, had secured the second-place runoff spot over James “Red” Brown, a former army general.

“We are ready to move forward and excited about debating the issues,” Simpson said on Tyler’s CBS 19 on Monday night.

Brown’s campaign remained optimistic after election night due to outstanding provisional and military ballots. But after all were counted, each candidate gained 107 votes, putting Simpson at 28,395 to Brown’s 28,382 and leaving the margin of 13 votes unchanged.

Simpson will face state Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, in the runoff to replace retiring state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, on May 24. Hughes drew more than 60,000 votes in the primary, falling just short of the majority he needed to avoid a runoff.

See here and here for the background. Red Brown was endorsed by Texas ParentPAC, so he was my preferred candidate in this race. I probably have a slight preference for Simpson over Hughes at this point – neither are any great shakes, but at least Simpson marches to his own drummer. Hughes came close to winning outright, though, so he would seem to be the favorite.

Two recounts may be in the works

There are always going to be some close ones.

After losing her reelection bid to Hugh Shine by 118 votes, state Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, announced she is requesting a recount.

In an email to supporters soliciting input Wednesday afternoon, White said that she is “still reeling in disbelief over the outcome of this election,” but she believes that an expected $1,800 price tag for a recount would be worth the cost. Later that day she posted to Facebook to announce that she would be moving forward with the recount request.

“We are at peace regardless of the results,” White wrote. “Ensuring fairness and accuracy with this election is essential for our community.”

In the Senate District 1 race to replace retiring state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, state Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, fell short of the 50 percent threshold required to avoid a runoff. His current runoff opponent is expected to be fellow state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, who led a third candidate, James “Red” Brown, by a mere 13 votes.

Brown and Simpson spoke on Wednesday about a potential recount, according to officials on both campaigns. Both agreed that if they go down that path, they will do it together with Brown footing the bill. But the Brown campaign thinks Simpson’s 13-vote lead may not stand ahead of next week’s canvassing of the vote, a process in which the race’s results are made official.

Brown’s consultant Todd Olsen said there are more than 630 provisional or military ballots across the district which have not yet been counted. The campaign has heard from several voters since election day asking about how they complete the process to have their provisional ballot counted, according to Olsen.

See here for the totals in the Senate race, and here for the House race. Shine had a 624 vote lead in early voting and hung on for the win, while Bryan Hughes was over 50% in early voting, with Red Brown in what would have been a meaningless second place. The only successful recount I can think of in recent years was in CD28 when a bunch of late votes were found for Henry Cuellar against Ciro Rodriguez. But you never know, and it only costs some money to try. Trail Blazers has more.

Initial day-after-election thoughts

– We now have two cycles’ worth of data to suggest that having more good candidates in a Council race does not necessarily lead to better outcomes. Following in the footsteps of At Large #3 in 2013, a handful of Democratic candidates in At Large #1 split the vote with sufficient closeness to keep them all out of the runoff. The votes were there, they just went too many places. Lane Lewis + Tom McCasland = candidate in the runoff, pretty close to Mike Knox in total. Lane Lewis + Tom McCasland + Jenifer Pool = leading candidate going into the runoff. I have no idea what, if anything, there is to be done about this. There is no secret cabal that meets in a back room to decide who does and doesn’t get to file for a race, and we wouldn’t want there to be one if there were. I’ll just put this out there for candidates who are already looking at 2019, when the terms will be double and the stakes will be concurrently higher: If there’s already a candidate in a race – especially an open seat race – that would would be happy to vote for in a runoff scenario, then maybe supporting them in November rather than throwing your own hat in the ring is the better choice. I realize that framing the choice this way turns this decision-making process into a multi-level Prisoner’s Dilemma, but one can’t help but wonder What Might Have Been.

– On the plus side, the runoffs have given us some clarity:

Mayor – Turner
Controller – Brown

At Large 2 – Robinson
At Large 4 – Edwards

In AL 4, Amanda Edwards faces Roy Morales, who caught and passed Laurie Robinson by less than 900 votes by the end of the evening. As for ALs 1 and 5, I’m still deciding. I said “some” clarity, not complete clarity.

– Speaking of CM Christie, if he loses then there will be no open citywide offices in the next election, which is now 2019. That won’t stop challengers from running in some or all of the other AL races, but it would change the dynamics.

– In District Council runoffs, it’s Cisneros versus Cisneroz in District H, which is going to make that race hard to talk about. Roland Chavez finished 202 votes behind Jason Cisneroz, who got a boost from late-reporting precincts; he had been leading Chavez by less than 40 votes much of the evening. Jim Bigham finished all of 28 votes ahead of Manny Barrera for the right to face CM Mike Laster in December, while CM Richard Nguyen trailed challenger Steve Le but will get another shot in five weeks. I’m concerned about Laster and Nguyen, but at least their opponents pass my minimum standards test for a Council member. That would not have been the case if either third-place finisher (Barrera and Kendall Baker) had made the cut.

– Moving to HISD, if I had a vote it would go to Rhonda Skillern-Jones in II. I would not vote for Manuel Rodriguez in III, but I’d need to get to know Jose Leal better before I could recommend a vote for him.

– Your “Every Vote Matters” reminder for this cycle:


Aldine I.S.D., Trustee, Position 1
=======================================
Tony Diaz                  5,813 49.98%
Patricia "Pat" Bourgeois   5,818 50.02%

Yep, five votes. There were 3,742 undervotes in this race. I have since been forwarded a press release from the Diaz campaign noting that provisional and overseas ballots have not yet been counted, and hinting at a request for a recount down the line. I’d certainly be preparing to ask for one.

– Speaking of undervoting, one prediction I made came true. Here are the undervote rates in At Large Council elections:

AL1 = 28.56%
AL2 = 31.02%
AL3 = 33.09%
AL4 = 28.35%
AL5 = 32.34%

That’s a lot of no-voting. Contrast with the contested district Council races, where the (still high) undervote rates ranged from 15.97% to 22.49%. See here for a comparison to past years.

– Meanwhile, over in San Antonio:

In a stunning outcome, Republican John Lujan and Democrat Tomás Uresti were leading a six-candidate field for Texas House District 118 in nearly complete results late Tuesday.

In his second run for the office, Lujan, 53, showed strength in a district long held by Democrats, narrowly outpolling members of two prominent political families.

“I’m still on pins and needles. It’s not a done deal,” Lujan said with many votes still uncounted.

In his low-key campaign, the retired firefighter, who works in sales for a tech company, emphasized tech training to prepare students for the workforce. His backers included some firefighters and Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC.

Uresti, 55, a legal assistant, is vice chairman of the Harlandale Independent School District. With 35 years of community involvement as a coach, mentor and tutor, Uresti capitalized on his network of friends and family name — his brothers are state Sen. Carlos Uresti of San Antonio and Tax Assessor-Collector Albert Uresti.

“Democrats are going to pull together again to win this one,” Tomás Uresti said of the impending runoff.

A runoff between Lujan and Uresti would be Jan. 19.

Gabe Farias, son of outgoing Rep. Joe Farias, came in third, less than 300 votes behind Uresti. Three Democratic candidates combined for 53.3% of the vote, so I see no reason to panic. Even if Lujan winds up winning the runoff, he’d only have the seat through the end of next year – the real election, which may produce an entirely different set of candidates, is next year, and Democrats should have a clear advantage. Nonetheless, one should never take anything for granted.

– Waller County goes wet:

Waller County voters overwhelmingly passed a proposition Tuesday to legalize the sale of all alcoholic beverages, including mixed drinks.

Though Waller County is not dry everywhere to all types of alcohol, various parts of it have operated under distinct alcohol policies passed in the decades following Prohibition. The change will apply to unincorporated areas of the county.

“I’m ecstatic with the numbers,” said Waller County Judge Carbett “Trey” Duhon III, who had publicly supported the proposition. “… It’s a good result for the county and for all the citizens here.”

Supporters like Duhon have said the measure was needed to smooth over confusing, overlapping rules and to help attract restaurants to a county poised to benefit from Houston’s sprawling growth.

See here for more details. And drink ’em if you got ’em.

– I’m still processing the HERO referendum, and will be sure to dive into precinct data when I get it. (I have a very early subset of precinct data for just the Mayor’s race and the two propositions. I may do some preliminaries with it, but this data is incomplete so I may wait till the official canvass comes out.) One clear lesson to take from this campaign is that lying is a very effective tactic. It also helps when lies are reported uncritically, as if it was just another he said/she said situation. Blaming the media is the world’s oldest trick, and I’m not going to claim that lazy reporting was a deciding factor, but for a group of people that considers itself to be objective truth-seekers, they sure can be trusting and unprepared for for being lied to. As with item 1 above, I don’t know what if anything can be done about this.

– Bond elections and miscellaneous other things are noted elsewhere. Have I missed anything you wanted to see me discuss?

Vote centers in Fort Bend

I continue to like this idea.

vote-button

Voters may get more flexibility on Election Day as Fort Bend become the largest county in the Houston area to consider moving away from precinct polling sites.

“A voter could vote at any location on Election Day just like they do in early voting,” said John Oldham, Fort Bend’s election administrator.

The proposal to participate in the Texas Countywide Polling Place Program will be weighed at several upcoming meetings. The 2005 Legislature authorized counties to reduce the number of polling locations by up to half and allow voters to cast ballots where they choose. The number of places opting to use “vote centers” more than doubled over the last two years to 26, including Travis and Galvestion counties. Fort Bend and three others have announced their intent to file an application for the program by the August deadline.

“Vote centers” first appeared in Colorado in 2003 after a county clerk watched police block voters from entering the courthouse after 7 p.m. Voters had gone to the wrong precinct to cast their ballot but could not make it to the correct location before polls closed. Now, at least nine other states have allowed or tested the system, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus noted that vote centers can save money, streamline ballot oversight and provide convenience for voters. About two-thirds of Fort Bend ballots are cast during early voting, which he said could signal that similar flexibility on Election Day would be well received.

“But any changes to where and how people vote can have collateral lower turnout. You’ll have people used to voting in a certain place,” Rottinghaus said. “There’s always an unknown factor, too. It may be intimidating for people who don’t regularly vote, or the location of polling places could make it less convenient for some.”

[…]

The primary reason Oldham said he wanted to switch to vote centers was to reduce the number of provisional ballots cast when a person shows up to the wrong location. That was the case for 26 of 242 provisional ballots in 2014 and 71 of 1,057 in 2012.

I have been a supporter of vote centers since I first heard of the idea, largely for the reason given in that last paragraph above. The concern about confusion and possibly lower turnout is legitimate, but as I said in that second post I linked to, it can be dealt with by sufficient outreach, and by placing some vote centers in current precinct locations. Some of that outreach can be to figure out where they need to be. And you may notice that the first post I linked to is from 2009. We’ve had vote centers for several years now, and as you can see from the map in the Chron story, we have a couple dozen counties around the state using them. We don’t need to guess about possible effects on turnout, we should have more than enough data by now to draw conclusions about it. Perhaps one of our oft-quoted political experts can get on that.

Thanksgiving weekend voter ID update

Some statistics to throw some cold water on the claims that there were “no problems” with the voter ID law.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Delays at the polls this month due to glitches with voters’ identifications could signal a bigger problem to come next year, when many more turn out for state and county elections.

Thousands of voters had to sign affidavits or cast provisional ballots on Nov. 5 — the first statewide election held under the state’s new voter identification law — because their name on the voter rolls did not exactly match the name on their photo ID.

It took most only a short time, but election officials are concerned that a few minutes per voter to carefully check names and photos against voter registration cards, and then to have voters sign affidavits or fill out provisional paperwork, could snowball into longer waits and more frustration.

A review by The Dallas Morning News found that 1,365 provisional ballots were filed in the state’s 10 largest counties. In most of them, the number of provisional ballots cast more than doubled from 2011, the last similar election, to 2013.

Officials had no exact count for how many voters had to sign affidavits, but estimates are high. Among those who had to sign affidavits were the leading candidates for governor next year, Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis.

“If it made any kind of a line in an election with 6 percent [voter] turnout, you can definitely imagine with a 58 percent,” said Dallas County elections administrator Toni Pippins-Poole.

In Dallas County, 13,903 people signed affidavits affirming their identity.

[…]

Harris County, the state’s largest, had 704 voters fill out provisional ballots. Of those, 105 were cast because the voter failed to show an acceptable photo ID.

That’s not a huge number of provisional ballots, but it’s still an increase, which is what we would expect if voter ID were having a negative effect on people’s ability to vote. Just imagine what the effect would have been if the amendment that Wendy Davis proposed to allow affidavits for “substantially similar” names had not been accepted. Information about provisional votes have never been public on the County Clerk website, so it’s good to have this here. I’d love to know what the cause of the 599 other provisional votes was.

Meanwhile, Sondra Haltom of Empower the Vote Texas writes on BOR about some real-life people who were directly affected by the law.

Meet Peggy: she’s 90 years old and a registered voter. She can’t get an ID because she doesn’t have her citizenship documentation. She came to the U.S. with her parents thru Ellis Island. She is a naturalized citizen. She doesn’t have the money to get the required documents. She missed the deadline to apply for a mail ballot, so she didn’t get to vote in the November election.

Or what about Alberta? She was born in Wyoming. She has a copy of her Wyoming birth certificate. She was married in Washington State. She has lost her marriage license and has not been able to get one so far from Washington State. She lived in Colorado for a while and is still using her Colorado driver’s license, which will not expire until 2015. She has been living in Texas recently and is registered to vote in Texas. She voted here in the 2012 election. She wants to continue to vote but has been told she cannot vote in Texas unless she gets a copy of her marriage certificate which will link her current name to the name on her birth certificate so she can get an allowable Texas photo ID.

Or Evelyn – She has been trying to get a Texas personal id so she can vote and fly. She has a birth certificate, Social Security card, proof of residency and unexpired Driver’s license from another state, but DPS won’t issue an id without her marriage license. The county where she was married can’t find her marriage license.

There will be a lot more stories like that if this law is still in effect for the 2014 general election. The trial is set for September, but first the court has to deal with a motion to dismiss from the state, to which the plaintiffs and DOJ responded last week. The briefs and a detailed overview of the arguments are all there, so go check them out.

Ousted HCC Trustee Bruce Austin seeks recount

No surprise, but don’t hold out much hope.

BruceAustin

Longtime Houston Community College Board Trustee Bruce Austin on Wednesday said he will request a recount after narrowly losing his District 2 seat to his challenger in Tuesday’s election.

Small business owner Dave Wilson was ahead of Austin by 26 votes, based on complete, but unofficial results. A candidate needs to garner a majority of the vote to win. Wilson had 50.1 percent, while Austin got 49.9 percent.

HCC officials must canvass the votes and declare them official before Austin can request a recount. The canvassing process usually takes four to five days.

The history of recounts, in HCC and other area races is not one that offers much hope to Bruce Austin. There are likely a few provisional and overseas ballots to add in, but it’s improbable there are enough of them to affect the outcome even if they all go for Austin. Barring anything unprecedented, this result will stand.

Austin, who was first elected in 1989, said Wilson won the predominantly black district, which covers parts of north and northeast Houston, by deceiving voters. Wilson, who is white, deliberately did not have pictures of himself on his campaign website and his campaign materials, said Austin, who is black.

“He never put out to voters that he was white,” Austin said. “The problem is his picture was not in the League of Voters (pamphlet) or anywhere. This is one of the few times a white guy has pretended to be black guy and fooled black people.”

Wilson called Austin’s remarks racist. Running a campaign without photos shouldn’t matter, he said, noting that his picture was posted on one of Austin’s campaign mailers.

Disguising one’s identity like that is dishonest, but hardly unprecedented, and fairly mild as campaign misbehavior goes. It’s also way, way down on the list of bad things about Dave Wilson, and reasons why no decent person should ever cast a ballot for Dave Wilson. Despite Wilson’s protests, I’m sure plenty of people were fooled. But if they were, a large share of the blame for that must fall on Bruce Austin’s shoulders. I don’t know what kind of campaign Austin ran, but if Austin didn’t make it clear to the voters that Dave Wilson is a terrible, hateful person that has no business being elected to anything, that isn’t Dave Wilson’s fault. And maybe the next time Dave Wilson runs for something, the Chronicle can write about it before the election, and mention at least in passing his long history of hatred and homophobia. Just a suggestion.

The voter ID effect

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

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

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

And it might not even come this year.

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Abbott versus Garza on voter ID

They’ve battled in court, and now they’re battling in the news.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday called a lawyer for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus unethical for his suggestion that people in the Rio Grande Valley attempt to vote without a photo ID.

Jose Garza, a lawyer who represents MALC in its fights against the state of Texas on voter ID and redistricting, reportedly encouraged voters in Edinburg to try to cast a ballot in next month’s city council elections without a photo ID. State lawmakers passed the voter ID bill — which requires voters to show one of several state- or federally issued forms of ID to vote — in 2011, but it was kept on hold until a June U.S. Supreme Court decision made its implementation possible.

“I would encourage everybody who wants to test this law to go and attempt to cast their ballot using their voter registration card,” Garza told the Rio Grande Guardian last week. “Let us test the impact of this law. We need to be able to measure how many people this law kept from voting.”

Abbott, whose office sued the Obama administration when the federal government originally blocked the ID requirement, said Monday that Garza is the one guilty of trying to suppress the vote, the common argument for opponents of the photo requirement who call the measure a 21st-century poll tax.

“It is always unethical for a lawyer to advise someone to violate Texas law. Even worse, Garza’s advice does not inform voters to bring one of the acceptable forms of voter ID,” Abbott said in a statement. “Instead, in an attempt to create a false impression that voter ID suppresses votes, the unethical advice is to come to the polls without the needed ID.”

Garza has since released a statement that fired back at Abbott.

Today, the attorney general questioned my integrity and said that I am advising voters to come to the polls without the photo identification that is now required to vote. Let me be very clear and set the record straight, I have never encouraged Texans to violate the law.

Everyone who is legally registered and eligible to vote ought to go vote. For those that are eligible and registered, but cannot obtain a valid photo ID as required by SB 14, I would advise them to also go vote and possibly cast a provisional ballot. Do not stay home and allow a discriminatory law to suppress your vote and voice. That is my message to Edinburg’s voters.

A federal court denied preclearance to Texas’ voter/photo ID law, stating that the undisputed record of evidence demonstrated that the voter identification requirement would have harmed the right to vote for many Texas minorities. Just because Section 5 is not in effect at the moment does not mean that the retrogressive effect of the photo identification requirement does not exist. I would advise the attorney general to do everything in his power to address the concerns of the D.C. Federal District Court and alleviate the undue burden that is being placed on the poor to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

General Abbott’s statement about my personal integrity is yet another ill-advised tactic to evade responsibility and accountability for seeking the implementation of an unjust and, I believe, unconstitutional law. If the citizens of Edinburg cannot vote, it is not because of me, but because of a law designed to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of poor and minority voters.

Emphasis in the original. Speaking of which, let’s go to the original story to see what really was said and meant.

Jose Garza believes a new Texas law requiring voters to bring along a certain type of photo identification is unconstitutional. He wants to bring a lawsuit against Texas and for this he needs practical examples of registered voters being denied the right to vote because they did not show up with an approved photo ID card.

“Anybody who is validly registered to vote and has a registration card or is clearly on the registration rolls should go and attempt to vote anyway, even if they do not have a photo ID,” Garza told the Guardian. “I believe the photo ID law is unconstitutional.”

[…]

“The photo ID legislation may be the law of the land in Texas but I believe it is unconstitutional. The only way you can challenge it is to find people who have been denied the right to vote because they did not comply with this specific term,” Garza said.

“So, I would encourage everybody who wants to test this law to go and attempt to cast their ballot using their voter registration card. Let us test the impact of this law. We need to be able to measure how many people this law kept from voting.”

[…]

“You can be denied the right to vote if you do not have the right type of photo ID. If you have a driver’s license that has been expired for more than 60 days that is not good enough. If you have a photo ID from your university or college, that is not good enough. If you have a photo ID from work, an employee from a school district, a city, the state of Texas or the federal government, that is not good enough. But if you have a photo ID from your concealed hand gun license, you can vote,” Garza explained.

“If you were involved in an accident and you have a DWI and your license has been suspended, even though you are otherwise eligible to vote, if your license has been suspended for more than 60 days, you cannot use that as an ID at the polling place and you will not be allowed to vote.”

Edinburg is a university town. Garza said UT-Pan American students that are registered to vote should take along their student photo ID card to the polls and offer this as a photo ID card. If they and others who are on the voter rolls are denied the right to vote, they should call MALC, the ACLU, MALDEF, LULAC, or the South Texas Civil Rights Project, Garza said.

A reporter put it to Garza that if such voters carry out his advice they may could be denied their legitimate right to vote and that this could influence the outcome of the Edinburg special election. Garza acknowledged this was the case but said the fight to stop voter suppression in Texas was worth it.

“It is better than staying home. If a voter is denied the right, they should call us or LULAC or the Texas Civil Rights Project or the ACLU or MALDEF. All of these groups are interested in the impact of this law. They will want to hear from those who are being denied the right to vote because they did not have the appropriate photo ID,” Garza said.

“If you are a student and all you have is your student ID you should try to vote, show it. They are going to be denied but they are otherwise eligible. A student photo ID is as good a proof of who you say you are as a concealed hand gun license is.”

On the one hand, Garza is clearly saying that anyone who is registered to vote but doesn’t have one of the very few types of legal ID should go and vote anyway. If nothing else, seeing how many provisional votes wind up getting cast and where they are will help clarify things as the next round of litigation moves forward. You know that I agree with Garza about the unconstitutional nature of voter ID, and that I believe Texas’ ridiculous and arbitrary restrictions on what ID is required is strong evidence of the discriminatory intent of this law. Still, Garza does appear to be calling for what is basically civil disobedience here. I admire the sentiment, but it’s not clear what would be gained by it. There’s no capacity for shame among Abbott and his acolytes, and whatever the courts say the way to win on this is by winning elections. Casting needless provisional votes, however strong a statement, won’t help with that. Go vote whether you have the required ID or not, but do bring it if you have it.

First pass at analyzing the 2012 results

This is kind of a brain dump, based on the information available now. I’ll have plenty more to say once precinct data has been released.

– The current tally in the Presidential race on the Secretary of State webpage, with comparison to 2008, is as follows:

2008 Votes Pct =========================== McCain 4,479,328 55.45% Obama 3,528,633 43.68% 2012 Votes Pct =========================== Romney 4,542,012 57.19% Obama 3,285,200 41.36%

Slight uptick for Romney over McCain, slightly larger downtick for Obama. My sense is that this is mostly a turnout issue, that Obama’s coalition was mostly intact but not quite as fired up as in 2008, much like what we saw nationally. I think that’s fixable, but it’s going to take the same thing to fix it (money money money) as it has always been. I mean, Team Obama invested millions in a turnout operation in various parts of the country, and by all accounts it was successful. What effect might that have had here? I hope someday to find out.

– For all my skepticism of the polling in Texas, the pollsters were fairly in the ballpark on Romney’s margin of victory. I have to say, had you told me on Monday that Romney was going to win here by 16 points, I would never have believed that Wendy Davis and Pete Gallego would have won, and I would have doubted Dems’ ability to win the four contested seats in the Lege that they did. But they did, which is both a tip to the skill of the redistricters and a reminder that things could have been better. Overall, I’d grade it as a B- for Texas Dems – the Davis, Gallego, and Craig Eiland wins were huge, but there were missed opportunities, especially in Harris and Dallas Counties, where too many judges lost in the former and two Democratic legislative challengers fell just short in the latter.

– I don’t want to dwell too much on the legislative races, since we’re going to get a new map once the San Antonio court incorporates the DC Court’s ruling into their lawsuit, but there will clearly be more opportunities in 2014. Still, it should be apparent by now just how steep the hill is. Dems came close to parity in the Lege last decade in large part to a sizable rural contingent and an ability to win seats in otherwise-Republican districts. Well, the rural Dems are virtually extinct, and outside of Davis and maybe Eiland I doubt there were any crossover stars this time around; I’ll know for sure when I see precinct data. I still think there will be opportunities for both based on the forthcoming school finance ruling and 2013 legislative session, but we’re a long way from each and candidates still need to be found.

– One question I had going into this race was how well Obama would do in predominantly Latino areas. In 2008, Obama lagged behind the rest of the Democratic ticket in these areas, possibly due to lingering resentment over Hillary Clinton’s loss to him in the primary, but as we know Democrats nationally and Obama specifically have seen Latino support go up since then. Here’s a quick and dirty comparison to 2008 in some heavily Latino counties that will have to do until I get precinct data:

County 08 Obama 12 Obama 08 turnout 12 turnout ======================================================== Cameron 64.08% 65.72% 43.37% 41.46% El Paso 65.87% 65.63% 47.67% 44.58% Hidalgo 69.01% 70.42% 42.83% 45.59% Maverick 78.20% 78.60% 40.43% 37.84% Webb 71.44% 76.56% 44.40% 44.28%

Nice gain in Webb, modest gains in Cameron and Hidalgo. It’s a start.

– Congressional loser Quico Canseco is whining about fraud.

Gallego finished 13,534 votes ahead of Canseco early Wednesday morning.

“The race is not over, and it won’t be until all votes are properly and legally counted,” Canseco said in a statement the morning after the election.

Gallego campaign spokeswoman Rebecca Acuna said there is “no way” voter fraud occurred. “This just shows a lot about [Canseco’s] character, because he chose to go this route” rather than concede and congratulate Gallego, she said.

Canseco’s campaign alleges that officials in Maverick County double- or triple-counted some of the early vote sheets. A complaint to the Secretary of State indicates that Canseco’s campaign found a minimum of 57 duplicate votes when reviewing a list provided by the Maverick County Elections Office. The campaign also alleges that another county used photocopied ballots, a criminal offense, and that an extended delay in counting votes from other counties left “other questions unanswered.”

“There are too many disturbing incidents to declare this race over,” Scott Yeldell, Canseco’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “During the next several days we will be looking into these reports to assure only legal votes have been counted in this election.”

But Acuna said even if all the votes from Maverick County — where Gallego received 6,291 more votes than Canseco — were excluded, Gallego still would have come out ahead. “His argument — it’s not at all valid,” she said. “We won this race; it’s simple math.”

I don’t expect this to go anywhere.

– In Harris County, those last nine precincts were finally counted. Obama’s margin of victory in the county inched up to 585 votes, but as far as I can tell none of the downballot races were affected. Obama’s total was down about 6000 votes from 2008, while Romney improved on McCain by about 13,000 votes. Still, as noted in the comments yesterday, provisional ballots have not yet been counted, and overseas ballots are still arriving, Judges Kyle Carter (1,499) and Tad Halbach (2,786) had the smallest margins in those races, while Mike Sullivan also had a close shave, winning by 2,498 votes and a 48.94% plurality thanks to the presence of a Libertarian candidate that received 2.34%. I still don’t think any races are likely to change, but I daresay all three of these gentlemen will not rest easy until the counting has truly ceased.

– I have to mention a couple of national stories. First, Tuesday was a great day for marriage equality.

Voters in Maryland and Maine legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote Tuesday, the first time in U.S. history that gay marriage has been approved at the ballot box.

In Maryland, voters approved marriage equality 52 percent to 48 percent with 93 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press. The state government passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, but opponents succeeded in putting the issue on the ballot in November.

“Over these past few weeks, Marylanders joined together to affirm that for a free and diverse people of many faiths — a people committed to religious freedom — the way forward is always found through greater respect for the equal rights and human dignity of all,” Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), a champion of marriage equality in the state, said in a statement late Tuesday.

The AP also declared Maine voters had approved same-sex marriage Tuesday after defeating a referendum on it just three years ago, a sign of how quickly Americans’ views on the issue are evolving. With 57 percent of precincts reporting, the ballot measure led 54 percent to 46 percent.

In a third victory for gay rights advocates, Minnesota voters defeated a state constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage, according to CNN and the AP. Thirty other states have gay marriage bans on the books, including North Carolina’s, approved as recently as May 2012.

Proponents of marriage equality were still hoping Wednesday for a fourth victory in Washington, where a measure to approve gay marriage was still too close to call as of Wednesday morning.

Remember when this was an issue used to bludgeon Democrats? Never again, and thank goodness for it.

Poor John Cornyn. At the beginning of this year, you could have gotten lower odds on the Astros winning the World Series than the Democrats not only holding the Senate but making gains. Yet that’s exactly what happened.

“It’s clear that with our losses in the presidential race, and a number of key Senate races, we have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party,” the Texas Republican said in a statement released by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which he directs. “While some will want to blame one wing of the party over the other, the reality is candidates from all corners of our GOP lost tonight. Clearly we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead.”

As of early Wednesday morning, Democrats (with an assist by an Independent in Maine) had picked up four Republican seats while losing just one of their own. Not a single Democratic incumbent was defeated.

Cornyn, who hopes to win a party leadership position in the new Congress, is now explaining the reasons for the 2012 failure.

“We know that our conservative vision is the right one to secure a stronger America for future generations,” Cornyn said in his statement. “We know that we are the party of big, bold ideas with the courage to fight for what’s right even if it’s not politically expedient. It was that courage and that vision that led to important gains for our party in 2010. But all of us should continue to learn from both our victories and our defeats, and work together to build an even stronger Republican Party.”

Basically, the Republicans had first and goal at the one yard line. Then, after a false start, two quarterback sacks, and an intentional-grounding penalty, their 50-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Elizabeth Warren, and returned for a touchdown by Joe Donnelly. The Democrats then added insult to injury by going for two and converting successfully. You just cannot overstate the degree and the stunningness of the turnaround in fortune. And if Big John thinks that the Republicans should just keep doing what they’ve been doing, well, I won’t try to persuade him otherwise.

– Other results of interest: The city of Austin will adopt City Council districts, while League City banned red light cameras. At least some things never change.

That’s all for now. PDiddie, Mark Bennett, Murray Newman, Harold Cook, and TM Daily Post have more, while Texas Parent PAC takes a victory lap.

Diaz has larger lead in Constable Precinct 2 race

Sixteen votes. Hey, it counts.

After provisional ballots were tallied Tuesday, [Chris] Diaz’s tally stands at 2,078, while [Zerick] Guinn’s is at 2,062, said Jill Moffitt, Democratic judge of the central count.

“I’m glad that they’ve finally come up with the final resolution,” Diaz said, thanking his supporters and volunteers. “I’m very happy with the final count and, hopefully, everything will work out in the future. We’ll move on the November election and see how we can fare in that.”

That’s up from the three-vote lead Diaz had after the County Clerk finally posted the correct tallies on Wednesday morning. It was pretty clear that the provisional ballots would be good news for Diaz.

Chris Diaz

Monday the Democratic ballot board met to determine which of the overseas ballots and provisional ballots cast on Election Day should be tallied. Tuesday those votes will be counted, along with GOP results (though no Republican races are nearly as close as Guinn and Diaz’s).

Of the 118 Democratic provisional ballots examined, said ballot board chair John Behrman, 92 were accepted. Of those, said former County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia — who was in attendance as a poll watcher on Diaz’s behalf — 16 were determined to be cast by Precinct 2 voters.

And of those 16, 14 appear to have been cast in and around Jacinto City, Diaz’s base.

“I would assume that they are his voters, but I could be wrong, you never know,” said Guinn, who remained upbeat. “Everyone who voted, who supported me or my opponent, I’m excited that they’ll have an opportunity to be excited about who they chose in the race. What’s important to me is that people’s votes count.”

Indeed, though there are still some questions to be answered about that. Be that as it may, the results will be canvassed on Thursday, then it’s up to Guinn to decide whether or not to pursue things further. For now, it looks like Chris Diaz has won the runoff and will be the Democratic nominee for Constable in Precinct 2 in November.

Now you see those votes, now you don’t

Tuesday was not a good day for the County Clerk.

Zerick Guinn went to bed late Tuesday, believing he had won the Democratic nomination for Precinct 2 constable by a comfortable margin. By morning, he had lost the race by three votes.

An incorrect vote tally in that race, posted for more than two and a half hours on the Harris County Clerk’s website, was one of several problems that plagued Tuesday’s runoff elections.

[…]

Stanart acknowledged he and his staff did not catch that the posted tallies were wrong. He spoke with Guinn Wednesday morning and the two have scheduled a meeting Thursday. The problem arose, Stanart said, in merging two databases of data from the machines that tally the votes to the machine that produces a report of the results.

In Guinn’s race, the clerk’s website showed him leading Chris Diaz 2,695 votes to 1,908 votes shortly after 10 p.m. When final results were posted at 12:43 a.m., however, Guinn’s reported vote total dropped by 634 votes, placing him three votes behind Diaz, at 2,064 to 2,061.

Stanart said he saw problems in a not-yet-published report of GOP results shortly before midnight, and began running both parties’ results from scratch. Stanart said he initially thought the problem was isolated to the report he had just run on the computer he was using, and, thus, did not pull the faulty numbers off the county website and did not inform Democrats because their numbers were being generated by a different computer.

By late Wednesday, Stanart said, he had learned both parties’ results online from 10:12 p.m. until at least 12: 43 a.m., were wrong, though he stressed only the outcome of Guinn’s race had changed.

The early version of this story is on Houston Politics. The Chron reported the wrong result based on that 10:12 PM update, as did I. You can see the erroneous 10:12 PM update here, and the 12:43 AM update here. While only the Guinn-Diaz race outcome was affected, it wasn’t the only one to show funny numbers. This is what you would have seen on the Democratic results page Tuesday night and Wednesday morning:

A new version of the results as of 4:01 PM fixed that error. I called the Clerk’s office prior to that to ask about this, and they assured me that they were aware of it and that it was the result of the same problem that was in the Constable race. They also told me that the error occurred not in the counting of the votes but in the reporting. That agrees with what Stanart says in the Chron story, so there you have it.

Regardless, these are still unofficial results until the HCDP canvasses them. In the meantime, there are still provisional ballots and some overseas ballots to be counted, so given the extreme closeness of the race, the outcome is still in doubt. A recount and more litigation are possible as well. Campos and Stace have more.

UPDATE: PDiddie adds on.

Recount coming in HD146?

It’s not official yet, but I can’t imagine there not being a recount in a race decided by 11 votes.

[Borris] Miles, a former police officer who owns an insurance business, said he had not yet received a concession call from [Rep. Al] Edwards, but looked forward to working with him “and getting him alongside me to work with me to address some of the issues in our community.”

Edwards did not return repeated calls seeking comment Wednesday, but in public remarks made shortly after the election, he indicated an interest in seeking a recount.

KTRK and KPRC also mention Edwards talking about a recount. I fully expect that to happen, though I presume it will wait until this election has been certified by the County Clerk.

Thirty-three Democratic voters cast provisional ballots in the race, said Hector DeLeon, a spokesman for the Harris County Clerk, which conducted the primary. A provisional ballot is used when a person tries to vote on election day when his or her name is not on a list of registered voters in that precinct. The clerk’s office, by law, also must wait five days after election day for ballots that could be mailed from overseas, DeLeon said.

A ballot board made up of Democrats appointed by the party is expected to meet Tuesday and decide which provisional and overseas ballots will be counted, said John German, the administrator of elections for the clerk’s office.

The official results are expected to be certified two days later, officials said, and either candidate can request a recount by March 13. That request would have to be made to Harris County Democratic Party Chair Gerald Birnberg.

Figure that overseas ballots are unlikely to make any difference. It’s hard to say with provisional ballots, but given how few of them there are, even if all of them were accepted, Edwards would have to receive two thirds of them to affect the outcome. I think his main hope will be that a recount of the absentee ballots will yield some changes, and if that’s not enough he may try an election contest. We’ve seen a few of those in recent years, though only the 2004 challenge by Talmadge Heflin against Hubert Vo actually proceeded to completion, and the result still stood. Anything can happen, but my money is on Miles. The Trib and Nancy Sims have more.

Harris County voter registration issues get national coverage

Lou Dubose, onetime editor of the Texas Observer and Tom DeLay biographer has written a story for the Washington Spectator about the shenanigans in the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office with voter registration. You can read it here (PDF), thanks to the Lone Star Project. There’s some information in there I hadn’t seen before, and it’s a good overview if you’re just tuning in now. Check it out.

TDP responds to Vasquez

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

These problems are not “frivolous” matters.

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

Saturday video break: Who are you working for, Dwayne?

I know I’ve been using these for mostly silly and/or amusing music videos, but given recent developments, I figured this was a good fit for the day.

Now we just need someone to do something similar for Leo Vasquez.

Leo’s response

Here, for the record, is Harris County Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez’s response to the Ed Johnson business. Basically, he denies everything, admits to nothing, and makes counter-accusations, certainly a time-honored technique when under attack. I’ll stipulate that the charges against Ed Johnson are being made by partisan groups. I find it rather admirable that Vasquez is so willing to go to bat for an employee like this. But man, if he can’t or won’t see how much this looks like a conflict of interest, I don’t know what to say. The voters will sort it out next year, I guess. I think Campos is right that swing voters will see this for what it is. I just hope the resources to make sure they’re aware of it are there.

Chron opines on Ed Johnson

The Chron follows up its story on Ed Johnson, the local GOP’s ace in the hole in the Tax Assessor’s office, with an editorial that recaps the story and gently chides Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez.

Given the recent history of his office, perhaps it’s not surprising that Vasquez would see nothing amiss in having a staffer responsible for voter registration involved in partisan campaign work on the side.

When the tax assessor stands for re-election next year, voters will have the opportunity to express their own views of such activities. In the meantime, Vasquez should order Johnson to choose between his public and private gigs and eliminate the appearance of a conflict of interest.

I think the Tax Assessor’s office deserves no benefit of the doubt, and as such Johnson should be let go, but making him choose between one job and the other would be minimally acceptable. For sure, the current setup cannot continue. It’s up to you, Leo – do you want to run a clean office or not?

What about Dwayne?

The Lone Star Project turns its attention to Ed Johnson‘s partner, State Rep. Dwayne Bohac.

[Friday], the Lone Star Project formally submitted open records requests of Dwayne Bohac, Tax Assessor Collector Leo Vasquez, Harris County DA Pat Lykos -a CDS client, and others. Given the refusal of Harris County Republican officials and Dwayne Bohac to respond responsibly to media inquiries about Ed Johnson, they must be compelled to produce records before evidence is destroyed or otherwise withheld from public or legal scrutiny.

[…]

To this point, Dwayne Bohac has said nothing to the press about his company, his activities or his employees, despite all being implicated in the scandal.  Bohac owes Harris County voters answers to at least the following questions.

Why does Bohac only sell to Harris County campaigns?
CDS claims to sell voter lists and software services, which should be applicable all over the state.  However, CDS only sells to Republican campaigns in Harris County. Is this because Ed Johnson is only available to help in Harris County?

What Harris County voter information has Bohac and Johnson obtained?
The Campaign Data Systems’ website claimed that, “Most data providers allow you to target using only registered voter data and voter history. However, CDS gives you two additional lists—drivers license data and property tax records.” (See the website) Ed Johnson’s position the with the Harris County Tax Assessor Collector, who oversees the voter registration department, may give him access to property tax data, vehicle registration data and other information in addition to the voter data for which he has full access. Bohac should tell Harris County residents what public data he has obtained and where he obtained it.

Why is Dwayne Bohac routing money through Decide Consulting?
Dwayne Bohac has never paid Campaign Data Systems from his campaign account.   Instead, he has suspiciously paid Decide Consulting more than $27,000 since 2004. Decide Consulting was founded by another Bohac business partner, David Moise.  This firm is described as a, “software management and consulting business.” Decide has no other political business listed on its website or on Texas Ethics Commission filings. These payments may be an effort by Bohac to steer profits to his business and business associates, while circumventing Texas Ethics Opinion 35 which prohibits payments to a business when the candidate owns more than a 10% stake for more than actual expenditures. As the opinion says, “the business may not make any profit on such a transaction.”

Good questions. I wonder when someone other than Pat “Conflict? What conflict?” Lykos or Leo Vasquez’s spokesperson will answer any of them. Campos has more.

Chron reports on Ed Johnson

Here’s their story about Ed Johnson and his questionable side venture as a Republican consultant. It doesn’t add much to what we already know, but it does get some local reaction, including from Johnson’s boss, Harris County Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez.

Leo Vasquez, Harris County tax assessor-collector and voter registrar, issued a statement that dismissed complaints that Johnson’s job, which can include approving or rejecting voter applications, conflicts with his side business.

“Ed Johnson is an honorable man,” Vasquez said. “It is slanderous and absolutely reprehensible to suggest without evidence that he is involved in inappropriate activity with regard to voter registration in Harris County.”

Vasquez’s spokesman, Fred King, said Johnson has been in this type of business since the mid-1990s, so his involvement in voter registration data was no secret.

“His knowledge of compiling lists and his programming expertise are the reasons Paul Bettencourt (Vasquez’s predecessor) hired him,” King said. “Vasquez may have heard of Ed’s outside business before taking office since many candidates and campaign workers knew of it.”

If it weren’t for the fact that Bettencourt did so much, especially in recent years, to politicize the Tax Assessor’s office, Johnson’s moonlighting might not be a big deal. If it weren’t for the fact that there had been so many complaints, especially last year, about the way voter registration forms and provisional ballots were being handled, Johnson’s moonlighting might not be a big deal. If it weren’t for the fact that Johnson had spent so much time parroting Republican fairy tales about the need for voter ID legislation in testimony before the Lege, Johnson’s moonlighting might not be a big deal. Put it all together, though, and you come to the inescapable conclusion that Johnson’s moonlighting is in fact a big deal. Vasquez needs to get his head out of the sand about it.

Though it should be noted that he’s not the only Republican elected official doing the ostrich thing:

Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos’ campaign paid more than $7,000 last year to CDS. She said late Wednesday her campaign hired CDS for targeted campaign mailers but she did not know about Johnson’s job with the county.

She insisted she saw no compromise of the elections office’s mission.

“I saw no conflict,” Lykos said.

So if it turns out that one of your ADAs has a side gig with a jury consultant who does a lot of work for criminal defense attorneys, that’ll be all right with you, Pat? I’m just checking.

More on Ed Johnson

As expected, the Lone Star Project adds quite a bit to the Ed Johnson story from yesterday. Boy, do they ever.

[Johnson] is a paid Republican campaign consultant. His company, Campaign Data Systems (CDS), has numerous Harris County Republican candidate as clients, including the Conservative Republicans of Harris County PAC, Senator Dan Patrick, and Congressman Michael McCaul. Republican State Representative Dwayne Bohac (HD 138) is also a principal owner of CDS. Johnson and Bohac are both listed on the Articles of Organization and on the CDS website as a person to contact. It is unacceptable that a county employee with unimpeded access to Voter Registration records, who can grant or deny the ability to vote to an individual, also works as a partisan political consultant.

Johnson Reviews Ballots for Harris County Races

Ed Johnson is a high-level employee in the Harris County voter registration department. In sworn testimony he has been described as, “pretty much the one that does everything.” (Deposition of Elizabeth Hernandez. Clerk/Processor)

It was also revealed that Johnson reviews provisional ballots in Harris County. Michelle Dixon, a 12 year veteran of the voter registration department said under oath that Johnson “opens the sealed envelopes of provisional ballot affidavits.” 17 year employee Kim Shoemaker said that “Ed Johnson will stand over us” during provisional ballot review. (Depositions of Michelle Dixon and Kim Shoemaker). The Houston Chronicle reported that white out was used on many provisional ballots before delivery to the Ballot Board. (Houston Chronicle, 11/12/08) Dixon also said that Johnson was in charge of purging voters from the system. (Depositions of Michelle Dixon)

You can see more excerpts from the depositions here; all such links are PDFs. This ought to be a dumb question, but does anyone really think that it’s okay for a person who works for candidates and interest groups of one political party to have that kind of influence over provisional ballots and the voter rolls? How is this not a massive conflict of interest? I know, another dumb question.

I don’t expect Johnson or anyone else in the Tax Assessor’s office, or the County Clerk’s office for that matter, to be apolitical. These are elected offices, and while the tasks they perform are clerical and should be done in a professional and nonpartisan manner, it’s fine and dandy for those tasks to be done by people who supported those elected officials. But being on the payroll of candidates and other political interests that depend on that job is going way too far. What Johnson is doing is wrong. What Dwayne Bohac did in not disclosing his business relationship with Johnson before he testified in Austin is wrong. What Leo Vasquez, and Paul Bettencourt before him, did in turning a blind eye to this (or worse, approving of it) is wrong. Johnson can work in the Tax Assessor’s office, or he can work for CDS. He can’t do both. EoW has more.

Oh, and by the way, you might notice that the links to the CDS company profile, and indeed to its home page are now 404’ing. I don’t know if this is a crude attempt to cover tracks or not, but there’s always Google cache when you need it. Nice try, Dwayne.