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Stan Stanart

2018 primary early voting Day One: Let’s get this started

And we’re off, with a few concerns about aftereffects of Harvey.

Hurricane Harvey may loom large in many Houston-area residents’ minds, but the storm is expected to have a limited impact on participation in the Texas primary, which kicks off Tuesday with the start of early voting.

Nearly two weeks of early balloting precedes the Lone Star State’s March 6 primary, the first in the nation.

“On one hand, we’re going to see a decline in turnout among some individuals who are displaced. On the other hand, I think there are some people who will counterbalance that decline because they’ve become more politically active and aware as a result of Harvey,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said. “The net effect is likely to be pretty neutral.”

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, whose office administers local elections, agreed.

“If it does, it’s going to be so small you won’t be able to measure it,” Stanart said. “Your primary voters are your core voters, your most loyal of voters, so those people tend to vote no matter what’s happening. So, I don’t anticipate much disruption in their voting patterns.”

I think turnout is going to be up due to a higher level of engagement this year, but we’ll soon see. It will be interesting to track the vote by State Rep district, to see how things may have changed from previous years.

Speaking of which, of course I have those totals, from 2010 and 2014. Google Drive is an amazing thing. And now we can add the 2018 totals and have a look at them all.


Year  Party   Mail In Person    Total
=====================================
2010    Dem  2,886     2,190    5,076
2010    Rep  5,946     2,774    8,720

2014    Dem  2,080     1,276    3,356
2014    Rep  9,048     2,807   11,855

2018    Dem  4,174     3,833    8,007
2018    Rep  6,138     3,509    9,646

So more Dems voted in person, but more Republicans voted overall because of more mail ballots being returned. Note, however, that more mail ballots were sent to Democratic voters (30,072) than to Republican voters (29,566), which is a big change from 2014. It’s one day and there’s a long way to go, but this is a strong start. I’ll keep an eye on this as we go. When do you plan to vote?

Stanart’s workshop

Our County Clerk has been doing some tinkering.

The Harris County Clerk has spent hundreds of hours and millions of dollars to build, from the ground up, an electronic voter check-in system at the polls, Channel 2 Investigates has learned.

“It’s taken more than two-and-a-half years. There’s been investments of more than $2 million, and we don’t really have anything to show for it yet,” said Adrian Shelley, Texas Director of Public Citizen, a citizen advocacy group.

Based on receipts provided by his office, Stan Stanart, an elected official in his second term, has spent $2.75 million of public funds, so far, inventing what he calls an “electronic poll book.”

It is unclear how much more Stanart plans to spend to bring the project to fruition or how much the system will cost in annual maintenance.

Stanart has said his project could ultimately offer substantial savings to Harris County versus an “off-the-shelf system” which by Stanart’s estimates would cost between $3.99 million and $6.12 million. (View document)

Stanart’s project principally consists of an iPad, custom software and a customized stand to hold the iPad. The finished product will alleviate long lines at voting locations by making the check-in process more efficient, Stanart has said.

The clerk procured hundreds of individual parts for the project, including thousands of dollars of washers, magnets and foam.

The purchase of 2,400 iPads was made in July 2015. The vast majority of those iPads stayed in a warehouse, unopened and unused for more than two years.

Stanart has said he is now in the process of mating the iPads to his custom-built stands. He rolled out less than 100 of them in November for a test run. The county clerk has not publicized the results of that initial foray, but has said he plans the full implementation of his system in March’s primaries.

“I think most reasonable would say you probably shouldn’t have spent $1 million on iPads if you weren’t going to use them sometime soon,” Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis said.

Both Ellis and Shelley said the idea of automating the voter check-in process is a worthy pursuit, but questioned why the project has not had more transparency.

I’ll cut right to the chase and say that I agree with Ellis and Shelley. It’s entirely possible that this was a worthwhile project for the County Clerk to take on, but:

1) Are we sure there wasn’t a commercial or open source solution out there? Even if it was more expensive, being able to deploy it in earlier elections would have mitigated the extra cost.

2) What oversight did this project have? I’ve been involved in some big projects in the corporate world. We have timelines, signoffs, approvals, all sorts of things to ensure that the people who need to know about it do know about it and know where it stands. How much has Commissioners Court been looped in on this?

3) Are there any design documents, or other technical descriptions of what this is, what it is intended to do, what the requirements are, etc etc etc? In other words, is it written down anywhere what to expect when this thing finally debuts? And if so, where is that?

4) Finally, not to put too fine a point on it, but what was the original budget for this, and how does that compare with what has actually been spent?

Maybe this thing will be great, and maybe it will be a dud. The idea is a good one, but that means nothing if the execution isn’t there. It’s way past time for these questions to be answered.

The Harris County slates

Let’s talk about the filings for Harris County. The SOS filings page is still the best source of information, but they don’t provide shareable links, so in the name of ease and convenience I copied the Democratic filing information for Harris County to this spreadsheet. I took out the statewide candidates, and I didn’t include Republicans because they have not updated the SOS office with their slate. Their primary filing site is still the best source for that. So review those and then come back so we can discuss.

Ready? Here we go.

– If there was an announcement I missed it, but HCDE Trustee Erica Lee, in Position 6, Precinct 1, did not file for re-election. Three candidates did file, Danyahel Norris, an attorney and associate director at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law; John F. Miller, who was a candidate for HCDE Chair earlier this year; and Prince Bryant.

– While there are contested races up and down the ballot, there’s one race that is no longer contested. Mike Nichols withdrew his filing for Harris County Judge, leaving Lina Hidalgo as the sole candidate to oppose Judge Ed Emmett next fall.

– The SOS page also shows that Sammy Casados withdrew his filing for County Commissioner. However, his campaign Facebook page makes no such announcement, and there’s no evidence I can find to confirm that. It’s possible this is a mistake on the SOS page. We’ll know soon enough, when the HCDP publishes its official final list. Anyway, the cast for Commissioner in Precinct 2 also includes Adrian Garcia, Daniel Box, Roger Garcia, and Ken Melancon, who was previously a candidate for Constable in Precinct 3 (note that Constable precincts, like Justice of the Peace precincts, do not correspond to Commissioner precincts). Also, there are now two candidates for Commissioner in Precinct 4, Penny Shaw and Jeff Stauber, who was a candidate for Sheriff in 2016.

– All other county races save one are contested. Diane Trautman has two opponents for County Clerk: Gayle Mitchell, who ran for the same office in 2014, losing to Ann Harris Bennett in the primary, and Nat West, who is the SDEC Chair for Senate District 13 and who ran for County Commissioner in Precinct 1 in that weird precinct chair-run election. Two candidates joined Marilyn Burgess and Kevin Howard for District Clerk, Michael Jordan and former Council candidate Rozzy Shorter. Dylan Osborne, Cosme Garcia, and Nile Copeland, who ran for judge as a Dem in 2010, are in for County Treasurer. HCDE Trustee Position 3 At Large has Josh Wallenstein, Elvonte Patton, and Richard Cantu, who may be the same Richard Cantu that ran for HISD Trustee in District I in 2005. Only Andrea Duhon, the candidate for HCDE Trustee for Position 4 in Precinct 3, has a free pass to November.

– I will go through the late filings for legislative offices in a minute, but first you need to know that Lloyd Oliver filed in HD134. Whatever you do, do not vote for Lloyd Oliver. Make sure everyone you know who lives in HD134 knows to vote for Alison Sawyer and not Lloyd Oliver. That is all.

– Now then. SBOE member Lawrence Allen drew an opponent, Steven Chambers, who is a senior manager at HISD. That’s a race worth watching.

– Sen. John Whitmire has two primary opponents, Damien LaCroix, who ran against him in 2014, and Hank Segelke, about whom I know nothing. Rita Lucido, who ran for SD17, threw her hat in the ring to join Fran Watson and Ahmad Hassan.

– Carlos Pena (my google fu fails me on him) joins Gina Calanni for HD132. Ricardo Soliz made HD146 a three-candidate race, against Rep. Shawn Thierry and Roy Owens. There are also three candidates in HD133: Marty Schexnayder, Sandra Moore, and someone you should not vote for under any circumstances. He’s another perennial candidate with lousy views, just like Lloyd Oliver. Wh you should also not vote for under any circumstances.

– The Republican side is boring. Stan Stanart has a primary opponent. Rep. Briscoe Cain no longer does. There’s some drama at the JP level, where Precinct 5 incumbent Jeff Williams faces two challengers. Williams continued to perform weddings after the Obergefell decision, meaning he did (or at least was willing to do) same sex weddings as well. You do the math. Unfortunately, there’s no Democrat in this race – it’s one of the few that went unfilled. There was a Dem who filed, but for reasons unknown to me the filing was rejected. Alas.

I’ll have more in subsequent posts. Here’s a Chron story from Monday, and Campos has more.

UPDATE: Two people have confirmed to me that Sammy Casados has withdrawn from the Commissioners Court race.

Early voting for HISD and HCC runoffs begins today

From the inbox:

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart announced today that nine Early Voting locations will open starting Nov. 29 where eligible voters may cast a ballot during the early voting period for theDecember 9, 2017 Joint Runoff Election. The Early Voting Period for the Runoff Election runs from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2 and resumes Dec. 4 to Dec. 5.

“To find out if you reside in one of the three districts where an election is taking place and view your individual sample ballot,  you may visit www.HarrisVotes.com, advised Stanart, Harris County Clerk and Chief Election Official. “In this instance, the districts in play do not overlap. So all eligible voters will see only one contest on their ballot.” 

County Clerk Stanart encourages voters to review the early voting schedule before heading to the poll to confirm the address of the early voting location.  In the conduct of non-countywide elections, only available early voting sites within or near each district are utilized in a Runoff Election.   

“To be eligible to vote in a particular contest on the Runoff Election ballot, you must be registered to vote in the district which is up for election,” emphasized Stanart“Qualified voters of one of these districts, may vote in the Runoff, even if they did not vote in the November Election.”

An estimated 90,000 registered voters meet the requirement to vote in the Houston Community College Trustee District IX race, 78,000 in the Houston ISD Trustee District I race and 55,000 in Houston ISD Trustee District III race.  The Joint Runoff Election is being held because no candidate received over fifty-percent of the votes on November 7 in these three districts.

Voters may find the complete Early Voting Schedule, view a personal sample ballot, or review the list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the poll at www.HarrisVotes.com.  Voters may also call 713.755.6965 for election information.

###

 

Harris County, Texas – Early Voting Locations
December 9, 2017 Joint Runoff Election

Location Address City Zip
Harris County Administration Building 1001 Preston Street, 4th Floor Houston 77002
Moody Park Community Center 3725 Fulton Street Houston 77009
HCCS Southeast College 6960 Rustic Street, Parking Garage Houston 77087
Young Neighborhood Library 5107 Griggs Road Houston 77021
Fiesta Mart 8130 Kirby Drive Houston 77054
Metropolitan Multi-Service Center 1475 West Gray Street Houston 77019
Sunnyside Multi-Purpose Center 9314 Cullen Boulevard Houston 77051
Hiram Clarke Multi-Service Center 3810 West Fuqua Street Houston 77045
Hardy Senior Center 11901 West Hardy Road Houston 77076

As noted before, only some of us have cause to vote. If you’re not in HCC 9 or HISD I or III, all of which are highlighted in the embedded map, you’re off the hook. For the lucky few who do get to vote, note that early voting is only six days (no voting on Sunday), so make your plan to get out there.

Election Day 2017

It’s time to vote if you haven’t already. Not many people have, as we know.

Harris County turnout is expected to remain feeble through Election Day, with no marquee race to draw voters to the polls and thousands still displaced by Hurricane Harvey.

Fewer than 59,000 of the county’s more than 2.2 million registered voters cast a ballot by the end of early voting Friday, a paltry showing even in a traditionally low-turnout state.

“Nobody’s voting because really nothing overly controversial is on the ballot,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said, projecting total voter participation will reach of 80,000 to 100,000.

Unlike in recent off-cycle elections, Houston residents do not have mayoral or city council races to weigh in on, thanks to a recent change to term limits.

Instead, the city ballot features several propositions, as well as races for the Houston ISD and Houston Community College school boards.

What’s interesting about this is that Prof. Jones is suggesting that somewhere between 60 and 75 percent of the total votes have already been cast. That’s a higher percentage than what I estimated, and it feels a bit peculiar to me because early voting has topped out at around half of the final total in odd-year elections. Maybe this year will be different – Lord knows, it’s different in many other ways – but I would like to understand the reasoning behind that projection. In any event, going by my “Houston is 70% of Harris County in odd year vote totals”, that suggests final citywide turnout of 56,000 to 70,000, which is similar to my estimate but with a lower ceiling.

Here’s the usual press release from the County Clerk’s office:

“Regardless of where voters reside in Harris County, voters will see seven state propositions on their ballot,”said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, alerting the registered voters in the County that Tuesday’s November 7, 2017 General and Special Elections is a countywide and statewide election. In addition to the State Propositions, the ballot also features items offered by 29 political jurisdictions within the County.  Polling locations will be open from 7 am to 7 pm.

“Voters can view their individual sample ballot and review the items on which they may vote by visiting the County Clerk’s election website,  www.HarrisVotes.com,Stanart specified. “This election merits the attention and participation of all voters. Aside from the State, there are five cities, 14 ISDs, and 10 utility districts with contests on the ballot.”

“Voters should know the address of their voting location and the acceptable forms of identification required at the poll before going to vote,” advised Stanart.  “The polling location in approximately 30 voting precincts in areas impacted by Hurricane Harvey, have changed.”  There will be 735 Election Day polling location available throughout Harris County.  On Election Day, voters must vote at the voting precinct where they are registered to vote.

“Voters in the City of Houston should be aware that this is the first odd-numbered year election when the Mayor, Controller and City Council races are not on the ballot,” informed Stanart.  “Don’t be surprised if you don’t see those contests on your ballot.”

Voters may find their designated Election Day polling location, view a personal sample ballot, or review the list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at their poll at www.HarrisVotes.com. Voters may also call 713.755.6965 for election information.

Stan Stanart is the Clerk, Recorder and the Chief Elections Officer of the third largest county in the United States.

 

List of Political Entities on the Nov. 7, 2017 General & Special Elections Ballot in Harris County, TX
State of Texas Pasadena ISD
City of Baytown Spring Branch ISD
City of Bellaire Stafford Municipal SD
City of Houston Tomball ISD
City of Missouri City Crosby MUD
Houston Community College System Harris County MUD No. 61 (defined area)
Aldine ISD Harris County MUD No. 551
Alief ISD Harris County MUD No. 552
Crosby ISD Mount Houston Road MUD
Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Northwest Harris County MUD No. 6
Deer Park ISD Northwest Harris County MUD No. 22
Houston ISD Cypress-Klein UD
Katy ISD Prestonwood Forest UD
Klein ISD Harris County WC & ID No. 133
New Caney ISD The Woodlands Township

Finally, if you have been displaced by Hurricane Harvey, please read this information from the Secretary of State Short version: you can still vote in your original precinct, as long as it is your intent to return there at some point. Note that state election law says you don’t actually have to return, you just have to say you intend to. You can re-register another time. So no excuses, go and vote if you haven’t already. I’ll have results tomorrow.

LWV to look at Harris County election security

I look forward to seeing their results.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early voting for November 2017 begins today

From the inbox:

“The best option to vote in the upcoming Nov. 7 election is during the early voting period,” advised Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart. Early Voting for the November 7, 2017 General and Special Elections begins Monday, October 23 and will run through Friday, November 3. There will be 45 Early Voting locations across Harris County.

“Voters should be informed before heading to the polls as several of the usual Early Voting locations have changed”, said Stanart. “Locations hit hardest by flooding such as those running along Cypress Creek and those located near the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs have seen changes to several of their Early Voting locations”.

In addition to the 7 proposed State Constitutional Amendments, there are 5 cities, 14 ISD’s, and 10 utility districts with contests on the ballot. Voters can find their individual sample ballot at www.HarrisVotes.com.

“The impact of Hurricane Harvey to South Texas has been huge, and while we are recovering, please realize that government needs your participation in this election,” concluded Stanart. The pulling together of neighbors helping neighbors has been truly inspiring. Please join your neighbors as we meet at your neighborhood early voting location.”

To find polling locations for Early Voting and Election Day, view a personal sample ballot, or review the list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the poll, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965. Stan Stanart is the Chief Elections Administrator and recorder for the third largest county in the United States.

Below is a list of early voting locations, some of which are new and one of which is a previously-used location that is not available due to Harvey. For a map and the EV schedule, see here. I’ll keep track of the daily totals as usual, and we’ll try to make our guesses as we go along about turnout. Feel free to place your guesses about how things go in the comments. When do you plan to vote?

Harris County, Texas – Early Voting Locations
November 7, 2017 General and Special Elections

Location Address City Zip
Harris County Administration Building 1001 Preston Street, 4th Floor Houston 77002
Moody Park Community Center 3725 Fulton Street Houston 77009
Kashmere Multi Service Center 4802 Lockwood Drive Houston 77026
Ripley House Neighborhood Center 4410 Navigation Boulevard Houston 77011
HCCS Southeast College 6960 Rustic Street, Parking Garage Houston 77087
Young Neighborhood Library 5107 Griggs Road Houston 77021
Fiesta Mart 8130 Kirby Drive Houston 77054
Metropolitan Multi Service Center 1475 West Gray Street Houston 77019
Harris County Public Health 2223 West Loop South Freeway, 1st floor Houston 77027
SPJST Lodge 88 1435 Beall Street Houston 77008
Northeast Multi Service Center 9720 Spaulding Street, Building 4 Houston 77016
Alvin D. Baggett Community Center 1302 Keene Street Galena Park 77547
John Phelps Courthouse 101 South Richey Street Pasadena 77506
Sunnyside Multi Purpose Center 9314 Cullen Boulevard Houston 77051
Hiram Clarke Multi Service Center 3810 West Fuqua Street Houston 77045
Bayland Park Community Center 6400 Bissonnet Street Houston 77074
Tracy Gee Community Center 3599 Westcenter Drive Houston 77042
Trini Mendenhall Community Center 1414 Wirt Road Houston 77055
Lone Star College Victory Center 4141 Victory Drive Houston 77088
Acres Homes Multi Service Center 6719 West Montgomery Road Houston 77091
Hardy Senior Center 11901 West Hardy Road Houston 77076
Octavia Fields Branch Library 1503 South Houston Avenue Humble 77338
Kingwood Community Center 4102 Rustic Woods Drive Kingwood 77345
Rosewood Funeral Home 17404 W. Lake Houston Pkwy Atascocita 77346
Crosby Branch Library 135 Hare Road Crosby 77532
North Channel Library 15741 Wallisville Road Houston 77049
Baytown Community Center 2407 Market Street Baytown 77520
Kyle Chapman Activity Center 7340 Spencer Highway Pasadena 77505
Freeman Branch Library 16616 Diana Lane Houston 77062
Harris County Scarsdale Annex 10851 Scarsdale Boulevard Houston 77089
Alief ISD Administration Building 4250 Cook Road Houston 77072
Harris County MUD 81 805 Hidden Canyon Road Katy 77450
Nottingham Park 926 Country Place Drive Houston 77079
Katy Branch Library 5414 Franz Road Katy 77493
Bear Creek Park Community Center UNAVAILABLE    
Lone Star College Cypress Center 19710 Clay Road Katy 77449
City of Jersey Village City Hall 16327 Lakeview Drive Jersey Village 77040
Richard & Meg Weekley Community Center 8440 Greenhouse Road Cypress 77433
Juergen’s Hall Community Center 26026 Hempstead Highway Cypress 77429
Prairie View A&M University Northwest 9449 Grant Road Houston 77070
Fallbrook Church 12512 Walters Road Houston 77014
Klein Multipurpose Center 7500 FM 2920 Klein 77379
Tomball Public Works Building 501B James Street Tomball 77375
Lone Star College Creekside 8747 West New Harmony Trail Tomball 77375
Spring First Church 1851 Spring Cypress Road Spring 77388
Lone Star College – North Harris 2700 W W Thorne Drive Houston 77073

 

We have a candidate for Treasurer

Dylan Osborne

The Democratic slate for countywide offices in 2018 is now filled out as Dylan Osborne has announced his candidacy for Harris County Treasurer. Osborne has been a City Council staffer and currently works in the Planning & Development Department for the City of Houston. He joins the following on the ticket for next November:

Lina Hidalgo, County Judge
Diane Trautman, County Clerk
Marilyn Burgess, District Clerk
Josh Wallenstein, HCDE Trustee, Position 3 At Large

All this presumes there are no other entrants into the primaries. Given how crowded some other races are I wouldn’t bet on that, but this is what we have now. As noted in the previous update, we are still awaiting candidates for County Commissioner in Precinct 2, and an HCDE Trustee for Position 4, Precinct 4, as well as some State Reps. Filing season opens in about five weeks.

Did you know that the current Treasurer, Orlando Sanchez, is the longest-tenured countywide official? He was elected in 2006, so this is his third term. County Judge Ed Emmett was appointed in 2007 and won his first election in 2008, along with County Attorney Vince Ryan. County Clerk Stan Stanart and District Clerk Chris Daniel were both elected in 2010. Everyone else, including the At Large HCDE Trustees, was elected no earlier than 2012. There are some judges who have been on the bench longer than Sanchez has been in office, there are Constables and JPs who have been around longer, and of course Commissioner Steve Radack was first elected during the Truman administration (I may be slightly exaggerating), but for countywide executive offices, it’s Orlando and then it’s everybody else. If we want to elevate somebody else to the title of most senior countywide elected official, next year will be our chance to do that.

Some voting locations were damaged by Harvey

Not a surprise, but we’re not doing much about it.

More than three dozen polling sites were damaged in Hurricane Harvey and might not be available for the upcoming November elections, Harris County election officials announced Wednesday.

Voters in Harris County are urged to cast an early ballot. Those displaced by Harvey or voters who might be registered at one of the damaged polling sites will be able to vote without disruption.

Early voting begins Oct. 23. Voters can go to any of 45 locations through Nov. 3 to cast early ballots. Election Day is Nov. 7.

Harris County had 765 polling locations in November during the presidential election and about 5 percent might not be available for the upcoming election, Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said during a news conference Wednesday. He stressed the early voting option outside the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Gray, making the plea while flanked by renderings of yellow billboards that will be posted in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese across the county to promote early voting.

“You can go anywhere in the county,” he said. “That makes it simple.”

Storm survivors can continue to claim residency at their damaged addresses if they are displaced.

“It’s still your home,” Stanart said. “It’s still your residence even though you’re not physically there.”

Oct. 10 is the registration deadline to sign up to vote, to change addresses for those intending to permanently relocate or to register in another county.

Voters who are displaced outside of Harris County and those within the county who are 65 or older or are disabled, can ask for mail ballots. Requests must be received by Oct. 27. The clerk’s office is sending teams to about a dozen nursing homes where at least five voters per address have requested ballots by mail, Stanart said.

As noted by the Press, Stanart did not provide a list of damaged polling places, so it will be up to you to check the harrisvotes.org website to see where you would be voting on November 7. Beyond that, their advice is to vote early, and apply for a mail ballot by October 27 if you’re over 65 or were displaced from your home and are now living outside Harris County. There’s more that could have been done, but this is what we’re getting. Guess it’s a good thing that this is such a low profile election. Hope we get all these places fixed by the March primary, because there doesn’t seem to be a plan B if we don’t.

July campaign finance reports – Harris County candidates

The Harris County situation for candidates and campaign finance reports is a bit complicated. Take a look at my January summary and the reports and data that I’ve found for July, and we’ll discuss what it all means on the other side.

Ed Emmett

Jack Morman
Jack Cagle

Stan Stanart
Chris Daniel

Diane Trautman

David Patronella
George Risner
Don Coffey
Lucia Bates
Laryssa Korduba Hrncir
Daryl Smith
Jeff Williams
Armando Rodriguez
Zinetta Burney
Louie Ditta


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans     On Hand
=================================================
Emmett     472,172   99,684         0     551,875

Morman     635,050   98,611     44,339  2,261,453
Cagle      561,350  197,375          0  1,008,707

Stanart     49,100   10,124     20,000     69,384
Daniel      49,350   51,681     55,000     25,359
Sanchez

Trautman    15,251    2,978          0     18,009
Evans
Lee

Patronella  20,215    5,075          0
Risner       2,550    7,202          0     81,053
Coffey         200    7,214          0     57,694
Bates (*)      850      575          0        567
Korduba (R) 24,870    5,085          0     33,466
Smith (**)       0      300          0          0
Williams (R)     0        0     60,000     13,396
Rodriguez        0        0          0      2,219
Burney           0        0          0        902
Ditta (R)        0    1,907      2,000     17,006

Let’s start with what isn’t there. I don’t see a report as yet for Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, nor do I see one for HCDE Trustees Louis Evans (Position 4, Precinct 3) and Erica Lee (Position 6, Precinct 1). Diane Trautman (Position 3, At Large) has a report, but she is running for County Clerk, so as yet there are no candidates of which I am aware for the position she is vacating. Finding Louis Evans’ name among the list of Trustees was a bit of a surprise, since he had not been elected to that position in 2012. He was appointed to the seat in November of 2015 to replace Kay Smith, who stepped down to run in the Republican primary for HD130. I just missed that announcement, so my bad there. Evans as noted in the linked release, was Smith’s predecessor in that position, serving the six year term from 2007 to 2013. He was not on the ballot for the GOP primary in 2012, so if he runs for another term this would be the first time he has faced voters since 2006.

County Judge Ed Emmett does not have an opponent yet, as far as I can tell. There’s a bit of confusion because three people – Christopher Diaz, Shannon Baldwin, and LaShawn Williams – have filed requests for authorization forms for electronic filing, with County Judge as the office they plan to seek. At least two of these people are not running for County Judge, however. Williams appears to be a candidate for Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 3, and has filed a finance report listing that office as the one she seeks. She has also filed a report for the office of County Judge. I presume the latter is an error, but they both have different numbers in them, so who knows? Baldwin’s case appears to be more clear, as she has a Facebook page for her candidacy for County Criminal Court #4, for which she has filed a finance report, again with the correct office listed. As for Diaz, I have no idea. I don’t think he is the Precinct 2 Constable Chris Diaz. Here’s the Christopher Diaz County Judge RFA, and the Constable Chris Diaz finance report. You tell me.

Jack Morman is clearly aware of his status as biggest electoral target of the year. He’s got plenty of money available to him for his race, whoever he winds up running against. Cagle has only the primary to worry about, as his precinct is highly unlikely to be competitive in November. The other countywide offices generally don’t draw much money to their races. I suppose that may change this year, especially in the County Clerk’s race, but first we’re going to need some candidates.

Constables were elected last year, as were Justices of the Peace in Place 1, so what we have on the ballot this time are the JPs in Place 2. According to the listing of judicial candidates that we got at the June CEC meeting, David Patronella and Zinetta Burney have primary opponents, but neither of them have July finance reports on file. Rodrick Rogers, who is listed as a candidates against Republican Jeff Williams in Precinct 5, also has no report. Lucia Bates is a Democrat running in the primary against Don Coffey, while Daryl Smith is a Democrat running against Repubican incumbent Laryssa Korduba Hrncir, who at last report was the last holdout on performing weddings post-Obergefell. I do not know if there has been any change in that status. Whatever the case, there’s not a lot of fundraising in these races.

So that’s what I know for now. It’s possible some of the non-filers will have reports up later, I do see that sometimes. For sure, we should expect to hear of some candidates in the places where we currently have none. If you’ve got some news on that score, please let us know.

Stanart pushes back on election security claims

Our County Clerk is not happy with recent stories about the potential for vulnerability in our election systems.

Despite reports from federal intelligence agencies and media outlets of Russia’s widespread targeting of state and local elections around the country and in Texas, election administrators in the nation’s third-largest county say Vladimir Putin’s government does not pose a unique or heightened cybersecurity threat.

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said his office, which runs local elections, has a slew of checks in place to prevent hackers from tampering with the vote, including multiple backed-up voter registration databases that are kept offline. He said reports produced by voting machines before every election ensure the machines do not come pre-loaded with votes and after the election allow the county to cross-check against final tallies to make sure the vote is not manipulated.

While most observers and experts agree Russia exemplifies a new threat to election infrastructure nationwide, Stanart said the county faces no greater risk from Russia today than threats going back to the 1980s. He also challenged the veracity of reports that the Kremlin had attempted to coordinate widespread attacks on state and local election systems in 2016.

“Where’s the evidence?” Stanart said. “I would really question that.”

[…]

Bloomberg reported in June that Russian hackers “hit” voter databases and software systems in 39 states, in some cases penetrating campaign finance databases and software used by poll workers, and attempted to alter or delete voter data in Illinois.

Also last month, the Dallas Morning News published a story that election officials there had found attempts to hack their election system ahead of the November election. The newspaper reported that election officials there cross-referenced hundreds of suspicious or possibly Russian-linked IP addresses provided to them by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security against those that had attempted to access Dallas County servers in early October and found 17 matches.

Stanart said his office has not seen that list of IP addresses. Dallas County election officials did not respond to a request for comment.

[…]

Harris County officials refuse to answer whether they saw any attempts to penetrate the county’s systems. While Stanart himself said he has not found that Russian-linked hackers targeted the local election system, he acknowledged that other county security officials could have found and stopped such attempts before they reached his office.

Those officials repeatedly have not answered questions about whether they saw such a threat.

Bruce High, the chief information officer and executive director of the county’s Central Technology Services, has acknowledged a recent “spike” in attempts to hack Harris County servers from outside of America’s borders, but has declined to explain when the spike began, what is being targeted and where the hack attempts are coming from.

See here for the background. I received some feedback from the County Clerk’s office following the publication of that piece, including a fuller response from Stan Stanart that I believe is intended to be an op-ed in the Chronicle that specifically disputed several of the claims made by Dan Wallach. I’m printing it here beneath the fold for your perusal. Beyond that, I don’t understand why the County Clerk says it has not seen the aforementioned list of Russian IP addresses, nor do I understand the reluctance by Harris County to discuss their cybersecurity measures in any depth. I don’t expect them to lay out their defense plans in detail, but some reassurance beyond “trust me” that they’re on the job would be nice. Maybe trot someone out who can at least speak the lingo or something like that, I don’t know. This is a legitimate thing for voters to be concerned about, and we have a right to expect those concerns to be addressed in a more responsive fashion than what we are getting.

(more…)

Was the Harris County election system hacked?

Wouldn’t you like to know?

Despite widespread alarm over the breadth of Russian cyber attacks on state and local election systems last year, including revelations of Dallas County being targeted, Harris County officials are refusing to say whether hackers similarly took aim at the nation’s third-largest county.

Releasing information on whether Harris County election systems saw attacks from Russian hackers would threaten the county’s cyber security by emboldening hackers to further target local systems, county officials said this week.

The county’s argument was dismissed by experts, who said the secrecy is unnecessary, and could actually downplay the seriousness of the threat and the resources needed to combat it.

“There’s this concept in security called ‘security through obscurity,’ sort of, if they don’t know about it they won’t come after it,” said Pamela Smith, a consultant at Verified Voting, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that promotes voting integrity. “But to really have robust security, you want people to be able to know that it’s there … I think what the public wants to know is that you’re aware of the threat and you’re taking steps to mitigate.”

Bruce High, the chief information officer and executive director of the county’s Central Technology Services, said Harris County overall sees on average more than a million hack attempts every day. He even acknowledged a recent “spike” in attempts to hack Harris County servers from outside of America’s borders.

[…]

Dan Wallach, a Rice University computer science professor and scholar at the Baker Institute for Public Policy, who has testified before Congress about the cyber security threat to elections, said that to an advanced threat like Russia, there likely are no secrets about Harris County elections.

Asked if Harris County had been targeted in a similar manner as Dallas County, High said the county had not received a list of IP addresses from the Department of Homeland Security. He added that both the FBI and the Homeland Security department will flag Harris County when they have concerns about specific IP addresses.

High did not respond to questions seeking details on how often such concerns are brought up, how big of a “spike” in hacking attempts the county was experiencing and over what period of time, whether that spike was election-related or which systems had been targeted.

Wallach said he was concerned about the ability of many local jurisdictions, including Harris County, to protect against a targeted threat from an advanced adversary like Russia. He said he believed it was probable that Russia had at least targeted Harris County servers, but also that in many cases, attackers are so sophisticated that local officials would not even know that their systems had been breached.

“The category of adversary we’re facing now is not something that Harris County government is equipped to deal with,” Wallach said.

I work in IT security and had a few thoughts about this, but then I saw that Dan wrote this piece with a much deeper analysis than I had done, and I figured it was better to outsource this to him.

Computer security experts who deal with nation-state activities use the term “advanced persistent threats” (APT) as a shorthand to indicate that our adversaries have significant capabilities, including both engineering resources and spycraft, to quietly break into our computers, spread out across our networks, and avoid detection. It’s common for APT attacks to last for months to years prior to detection.

Given these threats, we need to conduct a serious analysis of where our elections stand. Harris County’s Hart InterCivic eSlate voting machines, for example, haven’t had any major security updates following studies conducted a decade ago by the states of California and Ohio. (I was part of the California effort.) In short, an attacker need only tamper with a single voting machine. After that, the infection can spread “virally” to every machine in the county.

Compounding the problem, all of our vote-tabulating systems are running Windows 2000, for which Microsoft dropped all software support, including security patches, seven years ago.

In the lead-up to the 2018 election, it may be financially infeasible for a complete replacement of our voting machines. We only just recently purchased our voting machines after a 2010 warehouse fire destroyed our original fleet of eSlate machines, so the funds aren’t likely to be available so soon for replacements.

What’s clearly necessary, since we know the Russians targeted voter registration systems, is a major upgrade to the way our voter registration systems are managed. A redesigned system would still, by necessity, require Internet connections so voters can verify their correct polling places, see sample ballots, and so forth. Most notably, during our early voting period, we need an online database to track which voters have cast ballots.

A modern design, intended to operate even if the entire Internet failed while the election was ongoing, would involve making local copies of the database at every voting center. Unsurprisingly, the needs of Harris County are essentially the same as the needs for every other county in our state, suggesting that a state-level procurement could be an efficient way to improve the voter registration security for every county’s voters.

Another short-term recommendation will be for Harris County to upgrade its systems to the latest versions of Microsoft’s operating systems, even though this will require a waiver from Texas’s election certification requirements. Even though our vote tabulation systems are hopefully never connected to the Internet, they are nonetheless unacceptably weak in the present threat environment.

Likewise, Harris County needs to hire a professional security “penetration testing” firm to identify other soft points in its infrastructure and prioritize repairs; such consultants need to be brought in on a regular basis for check-up exams. We also need forensic security auditors to do a deep dive into our county’s existing systems to make sure they’re as clean as we hope them to be. This isn’t just a matter of running some anti-virus scanner, since APT adversaries use tricks that automated scanners won’t detect.

There’s more, so go read the whole thing. At the very least, I hope we can all agree that any system that is still using Windows 2000 (!!!) needs to be upgraded or replaced. Dan (who as you know is a friend of mine) puts in a plug for the STAR-Vote system that he helped design, and it’s definitely something the county and the state should consider. I just hope we take this seriously before something bad happens.

UPDATE: Hector DeLeon, the Director of Communications and Voter Outreach for the County Clerk, has emailed me to say that the county tabulation system is running on Windows 7, not Windows 2000 as stated in Wallach’s op-ed. He says they have made this same correction to the Chronicle as well. My apologies for the confusion.

ADA voting rights lawsuit update

Interesting.

A federal judge in Houston put Harris County on notice Friday that the scope of accessibility violations at local polling places could be so vast that a special master may be needed to sort them out.

U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett said he is considering an independent review of the county’s 765 polling locations to ensure they are accessible to disabled voters.

The revelation, which could have far-reaching consequences for the county’s voting system, came to light during a routine hearing Friday in a civil rights suit filed several months before the November general election.

“We’re talking about something that really needs an intensive review,” the judge told the teams of lawyers in the courtroom. “There’s no blanket order I can give. We’re going to have to look at almost each of these sites or on a site-by-site basis.”

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit last year, accusing Harris County of violating the constitutional mandate that voting sites comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Among the violations cited in the lawsuit – in a county with more than 400,000 people with disabilities – are a lack of appropriate parking, ramps, sidewalks, entry ways, voting space and other mandatory accommodations.

The judge’s remarks drew praise from disability rights advocates.

“Bringing in a special master is monumental because you’re saying there is a problem and it needs to be watched,” said Toby Cole, a Houston attorney who has closely watched the case. “It would be a significant move to make sure that the rights of people with disabilities are protected, and voting is probably the most fundamental of those rights.”

[…]

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, who oversees local elections, said the lawsuit is frivolous, politically motivated and centered on insignificant technicalities at sites the county doesn’t own.

“When the DOJ brought this lawsuit they had zero people who were complaining,” he said. “To the best of my knowledge, we don’t know of anyone who had an issue.”

Among the locations the Justice Department cited was the multiservice center at West Gray, which Stanart said was supposedly in violation “because if you were a 6 ½-foot blind person who came in the back door, your head would brush a limb.”

In another case, Stanart said, a handicapped parking spot had stripes painted, but the handicap sign wasn’t in the right place.

“Do they think these voters are idiots?” he said.

Stanart said his office picks the best location to serve voters in each precinct and believes, overall, that the county is largely in compliance.

Lex Frieden, a professor of rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine who helped President George H.W. Bush with early drafts of the Americans with Disabilities Act, said he thinks the county should be proactive about fixing problems or amenable to making the changes the Justice Department has identified.

“I’m mystified about the defensiveness of the county,” said Frieden, who uses a wheelchair.

See here and here for the background. I have some sympathy for the county’s position. The original complaint indicates that most of the voting sites are compliant or can be made compliant with temporary fixes. There are only so many places that can be used for voting sites, and there may not be good alternatives in some places that would also satisfy requirements for minority voter access. On the other hand, the Americans with Disabilities Act is over 25 years old, and to say the least the county has a spotty record of civil rights compliance in other areas, like, say, bail practices. There’s only so much benefit of the doubt that they deserve, and given that a number of these problems could be fixed by basic infrastructure upgrades like sidewalks, there’s no reason why the county can’t take a proactive approach to resolving this. And yes, I know, these are city sidewalks and streets, but last I checked they were also in Harris County. Let’s get a comprehensive review of what the problems really are and how much it would cost to fix them, and figure it out from there.

Bill to fix voting interpreters considered

This needs to happen, and it really shouldn’t be a big deal.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Almost three years after Mallika Das, a naturalized citizen who spoke Bengali, was unable to vote properly because she was not proficient in English, Texas lawmakers are considering a change to an obscure provision of Texas election law regarding language interpreters.

Members of the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday took up Senate Bill 148 by Democratic state Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston, which would repeal a section of the state’s election code that requires interpreters to be registered voters in the same county they are providing help.

The measure will ensure that voters are able “to meaningfully and effectively exercise their vote,” Garcia told the committee. “This ensures that voters have the capacity to navigate polling stations, communicate with election officers and understand how to fill out required forms and answer questions directed at them by any election officer.”

Garcia’s proposal comes amid an ongoing legal battle over the state’s interpreter provision in a lawsuit brought by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund on behalf of Das, who has since died, and the Greater Houston chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans.

Because she had found it difficult to vote in the past, Das in 2014 brought her son, Saurabh, to help her cast her vote at a Williamson County polling place. But when her son told poll workers he was there to interpret the English ballot for his mother, they ran into the state’s interpreter requirements. Saurabh could not serve as an interpreter for his mother because he was registered to vote in neighboring Travis County.

[…]

One provision of the state election code allows for “assistors.” It says voters can receive help reading or marking a ballot and states that assistance “occurs while the person is in the presence of the voter’s ballot.”

Yet a separate provision allows voters to select an “interpreter” to help them communicate with an election officer and “accompany the voter to the voting station for the purpose of translating the ballot to the voter.” The interpreter, unlike an assistor, must be registered to vote in the same county.

In Das’ case, had her son simply told poll workers he was “assisting” his mother — and not that the assistance involved interpreting the ballot for her — he would have been able to go into the voting booth with her.

Garcia’s proposal would essentially consolidate all forms of assistance and remove any requirements related to voter registration.

While the measure has picked up support by the Texas Association of Election Administrators, representatives with the Harris County Clerk’s Office, including Ed Johnson, testified against Garcia’s proposal.

“In Harris County, we think the role of an interpreter is different to the role of an assistant,” Johnson said, adding that the issue was a currently a “moot point” because the law has been put on hold and court is “still working through that process.”

See here, here, and here for the background. The lawsuit in question is being appealed to the Fifth Circuit, but if Sen. Garcia’s bill were to pass, it would (I assume) moot the issue. I honestly don’t get the argument against this, but that doesn’t mean Stan Stanart isn’t going to do Stan Stanart things. Sen. Garcia’s bill was left pending in committee, and an identical bill by Rep. Ramon Romero was not withdrawn from the House Elections Committee schedule, so there has been no action taken yet. Contact your Senator on the State Affairs Committee if you want to see this bill get passed.

January 2017 campaign finance reports: Harris County officeholders

We may or may not have City of Houston elections this year, but we will definitely have Harris County elections next year. Here’s a brief tour of the finance reports for Harris County officeholders. First up, Commissioners Court:

Rodney Ellis
Jack Morman
Steve Radack
Jack Cagle (PAC)

El Franco Lee
Gene Locke


Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
=================================================
Ellis      283,394   336,611        0   2,012,250
Morman      17,500    48,609   48,863   1,700,320
Radack       4,000    47,466        0   1,419,710
Cagle      560,528   270,065        0     599,774

Lee              0         0        0   3,769,900
Locke            0    81,475        0      16,672

Jack Morman will likely be a top target in 2018 – he has one announced opponent already, and will almost surely have others – and no one can say he isn’t ready for it. I expect that cash on hand number to be well over two million by this time next year. Money isn’t everything, and returns on more campaign cash diminish beyond a certain point, but whoever runs against Morman will have some ground to make up to be able to get a message out and a ground operation going. Meanwhile, the campaign coffers of the late El Franco Lee have more in them than Morman and Rodney Ellis combined, and I still have no idea what’s happening with that. I have some suggestions, if anyone administering that account is curious.

Next, the countywide offices that are on the ballot next year:

Ed Emmett
Stan Stanart
Chris Daniel (PAC)
Orlando Sanchez

Diane Trautman


Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
=================================================
Emmett      72,000   116,700        0     177,800
Stanart      1,100     8,272   20,000      22,956
Daniel      25,800    28,866        0       4,336
Sanchez      1,250    21,813  200,000     214,820

Trautman         0       554                3,029

I skipped the offices that were just elected, because life is short. Ed Emmett’s modest total is further evidence that he was not originally planning to run for re-election next year. I feel confident that he’d have more cash in his coffers if that had been the idea all along, and I also feel confident he’ll make up some ground before the next reporting deadline. Diane Trautman would be up for re-election to the HCDE Board, but as we know she is going to run for County Clerk, so I’m including her here. I’ll be interested to see if any money pours into this race. Orlando Sanchez has had that $200K loan on the books since at least the July 2014 report. I still don’t know where he got the money for it, or why he apparently hasn’t spent any of it since then, but whatever.

Here are the Constables:

Alan Rosen
Chris Diaz
Sherman Eagleton
Mark Herman
Phil Camus
Silvia Trevino
May Walker
Phil Sandlin


Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
=================================================
Rosen       16,500    53,719        0     237,908
Diaz         5,600    26,127        0      10,479
Eagleton         0    18,426  102,550       2,132
Herman      10,000     8,713        0     248,578
Camus            0     1,259        0       4,650
Trevino      3,500     6,892        0         142
Walker      28,166    16,935        0      23,475
Sandlin      1,500    20,451        0      56,265

All of the Constables, as well as the Justices of the Peace in Place 1, were on the ballot last year, but as I have never looked at these reports before, I figure what the heck. Alan Rosen has always been a big fundraiser. Sherman Eagleton survived a primary and runoff, which is what that loan money is about. I presume all of the action for Mark Herman was in late 2015 and early 2016, after he got promoted and needed to win a primary. I’d have to check to see if Silvia Trevino raised and spent a bunch of money early on and then took a break, or if she just relied on name recognition to win. She did win without a runoff, so whatever she did do, it worked.

Finally, the JPs:

Eric Carter
David Patronella

JoAnn Delgado
George Risner

Joe Stephens
Don Coffey

Lincoln Goodwin
Laryssa Korduba Hrncir

Russ Ridgway
Jeff Williams

Richard Vara
Armando Rodriguez

Hilary Green
Zinetta Burney

Holly Williamson
Louie Ditta


Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
=================================================
Carter       2,000     5,041  129,878       1,316
Delgado      1,500         0        0           0
Stephens     1,770     2,192   44,886          61
Goodwin          0       680  115,000      80,730
Ridgway          0     1,200        0      16,414
Vara         1,635       500    9,787       1,523
Green        1,700       236        0       1,684
Williamson   2,436     4,551        0      66,762


Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
=================================================
Patronella  40,665     3,574        0
Risner      37,365     9,680        0      84,532
Coffey      50,125    26,323        0      64,906
Hrncir         910       999        0      13,681
Williams         0         0   60,000      13,396
Rodriguez        0         0        0       2,219
Burney           0         0        0         902
Ditta            0     4,248    2,000      18,914

The Place 1 JPs were elected last year as noted, while the Place 2 JPs will be up next year. David Patronella’s form did not list a cash on hand total. For what it’s worth, all three groups (Constables and the two sets of JPs) have the same partisan mix, five Dems and three Republicans. I don’t have any further insights, so we’ll wrap this up here.

On those “improper” votes

Let’s be clear about this.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas election officials have acknowledged that hundreds of people were allowed to bypass the state’s toughest-in-the-nation voter ID law and improperly cast ballots in the November presidential election by signing a sworn statement instead of showing a photo ID.

The chief election officers in two of the state’s largest counties are now considering whether to refer cases to local prosecutors for potential perjury charges or violations of election law. Officials in many other areas say they will simply let the mistakes go, citing widespread confusion among poll workers and voters.

[…]

An Associated Press analysis of roughly 13,500 affidavits submitted in Texas’ largest counties found at least 500 instances in which voters were allowed to get around the law by signing an affidavit and never showing a photo ID, despite indicating that they possessed one.

Others used the sworn declarations to lodge protest statements against the law.

One affidavit from Hidalgo County, along the Texas-Mexico border, read: “Did not want to ‘pander’ to government requirement.” In Tarrant County, an election judge noted on an affidavit: “Had photo ID but refused to show it.”

“If we see that somebody blatantly says ‘I have ID’ and refused to show it, we’re going to turn that over to the D.A.,” said Stephen Vickers, chief deputy elections administrator for Tarrant County, which includes Fort Worth. “If they tried to use the affidavit to get around the system, yeah, I see that as a violation.”

[…]

In Fort Bend County, a suburb of Houston, more than 15 percent of voters who submitted 313 affidavits said they possessed a photo ID, but they were not required to show it.

Under a court order issued last year, election officials were not allowed to question a voter’s reason for signing an affidavit.

The cases do not amount to voter fraud because people still had to be registered to vote to qualify for an affidavit, said John Oldham, Fort Bend County’s elections chief.

Poll workers were trained to “err on the side of letting people use the affidavit instead of denying them the chance to vote,” Oldham said.

“We don’t consider it something that we want to go out and prosecute people over,” Oldham said. “But I wish we didn’t have this affidavit process. It makes the whole photo ID law entirely meaningless.”

First of all, these were all votes cast by registered voters. The only impropriety, if there is one, lies in how the court order that “softened” Texas’ voter ID law is interpreted. The affidavit process was to allow registered voters who didn’t have one of the accepted forms of ID to cast their ballot if they produced another form of ID and signed a statement swearing 1) that they were who they said they were, and 2) that they didn’t have an accepted form of ID. Some election officials, like Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart took that to mean that the affiant did not own one of those forms of ID, like a drivers license. Others, including attorneys representing plaintiffs in the ongoing litigation, thought that was too strict. What if someone’s license had been lost or stolen, and they didn’t have the opportunity to get a replacement? What if someone arrived at the polling location only to realize they had left their license at home? Maybe the voters in those situations would be permitted to vote – I certainly think the first group ought to be – but until the question comes before a judge, we’re all just guessing. And remember, we’re talking about a few hundred voters who may not have followed a set of rules that were interpreted in a variety of ways versus sixteen thousand people who got to vote in the first place. Perspective, y’all.

Precinct analysis: Bennett v Sullivan

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


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

Ann Harris Bennett

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

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

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

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

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

Sustaining the Harris County Democrats’ success

All things considered, I feel reasonably optimistic about Democratic prospects in Harris County going forward, but I felt that way in 2008 as well, so I certainly understand the inclination to be cautious.

Democrats swept Harris County last Tuesday in nothing short of a rout, claiming every countywide position on the ballot as Hillary Clinton toppled Donald Trump by more than 12 points – a larger margin of victory than George W. Bush enjoyed here in either of his presidential bids.

That edge – and the domino effect it had on local races – exceeded many Democrats’ most optimistic projections. It also fueled speculation that the nation’s largest swing county soon could be reliably blue.

Yet some on the left still worry that, absent Trump, the party’s decentralized coalition could make that transformation a tall order near-term, despite favorable demographic shifts.

“It’s not something that’s going to be sustained with the party infrastructure we have right now,” local Democratic direct mail vendor Ryan Slattery said, recalling the party’s trouncing in 2010, two years after President Barack Obama won the county. “You’ll always have this ebb and flow.”

Former Mayor Annise Parker agreed the party “has underperformed in the past” but was more hopeful.

“In this election cycle, both the Harris County Democratic Party in its official leadership and committed Democrats came together and we all played nicely,” Parker said. “The way we swept Harris County down here and knowing the way midterm elections generally go, it might be a pretty good place to be a Democrat in two years and even four years.”

[…]

Concurrently, the share of county residents who identified as Democrats rose steeply, to 48 percent from 35 percent, according to the Kinder Institute’s Houston Area Survey. The percentage of Republicans fell to 30 percent from 37 percent.

Democrats have harnessed that momentum in presidential election years but floundered in the interim, when Republicans capitalized on national political discontent and lower turnout.

After earning nearly 48,000 more straight-ticket votes than Republicans did in 2008, Democrats lost the straight-ticket vote by nearly 50,000 votes in 2010 and 44,000 votes in 2014. They earned nearly 3,000 more straight-ticket votes in 2012 and 70,000 this year.

I’ll repeat my mantra here: Conditions in 2018 are going to be different than they were in 2010 and 2014. I don’t know what they will be like, and it’s certainly possible they could be worse, but they pretty much have to be different by definition. I’ll also say again that after this election, it’s hard to argue the proposition that there are more Democrats in the county than there are Republicans. Doesn’t mean there will be more Democratic voters in a given election, and things can always change, but as they stand today we have a bigger pool than they do. Put aside the Hillary/Trump numbers, and consider that in this election, the average Republican judicial candidate received about 606,000 votes, and the average Democratic judicial candidate received about 661,000. There are more Ds than Rs.

One corollary of this is that Dems don’t necessarily need a boost in turnout, at least on a percentage basis, to have a bright outlook for 2018. Remember, the turnout rate this year was lower than it had been in 2012, but the sheer increase in voter registrations led to the higher turnout total. It’s my contention, based on the average judicial race numbers from 2012 to 2016, that the bulk of those new registrants were Dems. Base turnout is an issue in off year elections until the results show that it isn’t, but I believe we are starting out in a more favorable position than we have done before.

So with this in mind, here are the things I would recommend Democrats in Harris County do to get the kind of outcome we want in 2018:

– Don’t be discouraged by what happened nationally. That’s going to be hard, because there’s going to be a lot of bad things happening, and not a whole lot that can be done to stop it. What we need to do here is remember that old adage about acting locally, and channel the frustration and anger we will feel into local organizing and action. Harris County Democrats had a really good 2016. We can have a good 2018 as well. Let’s keep our focus on that.

– It all starts with the candidates. There are three important county offices that will need candidates – County Judge, which has now been complicated by Judge Ed Emmett’s announcement that he plans to run for re-election instead of retiring as had been thought, County Clerk, and Commissioner in Precinct 2. (Yes, District Clerk and County Treasurer are also on the ballot, but with all due respect they don’t have the ability to affect policy that these offices do. Also, HCDE At Large Trustee Diane Trautman will be up for re-election, but unless she decides to step down that candidacy will be accounted for.) I’m not going to get into the candidate speculation business right now – there will be plenty of time for that later – but we need good candidates, and we need to ensure that they fully engage in the primary process. The last thing we need is a Lloyd Oliver-style failure.

– I’ve talked about this several times over the years, but one thing that stands out in the 2016 data that I’ve seen so far is that the rising tide of Democratic voters didn’t just come from the traditional Democratic places, but from all over the county. The end result of that was that a lot of districts that had been previously seen as Republican were less so this year. That in turn means two things: One, there are more opportunities to make serious challenges in State Rep districts, in particular HDs 135, 138, 132, and 126. Lining up good candidates for these districts is a must. Two, we need to recognize that there are lots of Democrats in these and other Republican-held State Rep districts, and that we have to do at least as good a job connecting with them as we do with Dems in the places we know and are used to dealing with if we want to sustain and build on our gains from this year.

– That bit I said before about Dems not necessarily needing a big boost in turnout level to be in a winning position? The key to that was that even with turnout percentage being down a bit, the overall turnout total was higher, and the reason for that was the large increase in voter registration. We absolutely need to keep doing that. This may have been the secret to our success this year. Let’s not let up on it.

I can’t say Harris County Dems will be successful in 2018. Hell, at this point no one can say anything about the future with any degree of certainty. I’ve highlighted the things that I believe are important. There will be a lot to talk about and a lot to do before we get to any of that.

Early voting, Day Eleven: Last chance

From the inbox:

EarlyVoting

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart announced within minutes after the polls opened this morning, that Harris County crossed the 700,982 voter benchmark setting a new record for early voters by personal appearance.

With essentially two full days of Early Voting left for the November 8, 2016 Election, the record established during the 2012 November Election is expected to be shattered as an additional 170,000 to 190,000 voters are anticipated to vote by the end of Friday.

Of the 123,954 mail ballots that were mailed, 89,271 have been returned as of Wednesday. Stanart, the chief election official of the County, anticipates that over 100,000 mail ballots will ultimately be received by the 7 p.m. deadline on election day.

“Incredible turnout for a historic election, said Stanart. “I expect the total number of early voters for this election, including mail ballots received, will get close to the one million mark by the end of the early voting period.”

The early voting period ends Friday, November 4. Until then, the 46 Harris County Early Voting locations will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. All voters in line at 7 p.m. will be allowed to cast their ballot.

“There is still time to vote early,” concluded Stanart. “Do your homework. Then, go vote.”

To obtain the early voting schedule, a list of acceptable credentials to vote at the polling location, their personal sample ballot and other election information, voters may visit the Harris County Clerk’s website at www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

That was sent yesterday morning, so we’re down to just one day to vote early, today. Stanart’s projection for the last two days, including another 10K or so mail ballots, would put us close to a million early votes. That’s just a lot, I don’t know how else to say it. As far as Election Day itself goes, we had 427K on Election Day in 2008, and 442K on E-Day in 2012, so take your guesses as to what this means for this year. I’d put the range at 400K to 500K, but I won’t be surprised if we’re outside of that, one way or the other.

No daily EV report before I went to bed last night, so I can’t say if we’re on track for Stanart’s projection or not. As always, I will update when I have the file.

UPDATE: Here’s your Day 11 EV report and your tracker spreadsheet, which will be updated later. There were 76,878 in-person votes and 2,546 mail ballots, bring the overall total up to 869,392. A million early votes is probably out of reach, but we should get to 950,000, maybe a bit more.

Election Day observers coming from Justice Department over ADA complaints

That’s a complicated headline for this story.

vote-button

Six teams of Justice Department officials will be dispatched to observe Election Day voting at 75 polling locations in Harris County as part of an investigation into allegations that the county failed to provide reasonable access to mobility-impaired voters.

Harris County will field its own teams on Election Day as part of an arrangement approved Thursday by U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett.

Bennett, however, told county officials that he found it “deeply disturbing” that Justice Department observers saw a visibly armed county investigator with a badge filming an elderly African-American woman with a walker entering a polling place this week for early voting.

“That’s voter intimidation,” the judge said, ordering the Harris County Attorney’s Office to provide written notice explaining how it plans to avoid a repeat of the scenario.

The filming was meant to record the accessibility of the site, a county attorney said, explaining she was surprised to hear the investigator was in close proximity to voters and that his sidearm was visible.

The judge also asked whether there had been any complaints of ADA violations during early voting, which began Monday in Texas. Harris County officials said it had neither seen nor heard of any, but the Justice Department legal team said it knew of four complaints so far, in addition to the incident of the woman with the walker.

The details were revealed during a hearing Thursday in Houston in a Justice Department lawsuit accusing the county of civil violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it doesn’t provide appropriate parking, ramps, sidewalks, entry ways, voting space and other mandatory accommodations at voting sites.

The county says it has fielded no such complaints and denies its polling sites are out of compliance with ADA regulations.

“They have taken the position that there is a systemic problem,” said Laura Beckman Hedge of the Harris County Attorney’s Office. “We believe this is a fishing expedition.”

See here for the background. Basically, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit back in August that charged Harris County with not having sufficient access to polling places for disabled voters. They had previously notified the Harris County Clerk in 2014 of the problems they had identified, and filed the lawsuit after not receiving an answer that satisfied them in time. This was the first activity that I know of related to this lawsuit since then. Obviously, nothing is going to be resolved before this election, but it will be interesting to see what the Justice Department’s findings are afterwards, and how the county responds to them.

Early voting, Day Five: Maybe the lines will be shorter next week

Resources will be mobilized to ameliorate things.

EarlyVoting

Harris County will add staff and equipment to early voting locations next week to help cut down long wait times fueled by a record surge of voter turnout, County Clerk Stan Stanart said.

Typically, people head to early voting to skip the lines of Election Day, but voters since Monday in Harris County have overwhelmed many early polling places, resulting in waits of more than an hour in some locations. Big counties across the state also reported record turnout this week.

“After more than a year of one of the most conflict-ridden and divisive presidential campaigns we have ever seen,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, “there was clearly some pent up demand among a segment of voters to go out and cast their ballots.”

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, pointed out close countywide races for sheriff and district attorney and “the ongoing discussion about Texas being in play as a battleground state on the presidential level.”

“Competitive elections drive turnout,” he said, because people feel their vote means more.

Stanart on Monday said he had expected a record-breaking Day One turnout of around 55,000. Actual turnout hit more than 67,000, and on Wednesday it was 76,000.

On Thursday, Stanart said wait times had begun to decrease as staff got in the groove of running an election. The number of votes processed per hour grew from 6,000 on Monday to 7,500 on Wednesday, he said.

“They always are rusty for the first couple of days, and usually it’s not a big deal,” he said, adding that this year “people are voting in droves.”

Here’s the Day 5 EV report, and the updated spreadsheet. There were 81,239 in person votes cast yesterday, and yes, that’s another record. In fact, it’s the third busiest day ever, after the final EV days in 2012 and 2008. That brings the record-setting first week to a grand total of 374,679 in person votes; it’s 452,124 when you add in mail ballots. But mail ballots don’t make you wait in line, so the staff and equipment numbers at each location will matter. For comparison purposes the first five days of early voting in 2012 yielded 260,274 votes, and in 2008 it was 220,046. And in both cases, the last five days were considerably busier. There were another 337,389 votes cast in 2012, and another 364,060 in 2008. It’s a guess, but I’d predict a 50% total increase for the last five days, or about 550,000 total votes.

That’s kind of nuts, and I could totally be wrong, but who knows? If I am right, that means a bit more than a million votes would be cast early, which is about a one-third increase over 2012. Given that the first five EV days this week saw a 44% increase over 2012, I don’t think that’s out of line. Extending that all the way out, I’d say this portends a final overall turnout of 1.4 million to 1.5 million, which would be a boost of 200,000 to 300,000 over 2012. Again, I could be way off. Maybe Week 2 will slow down, or at least not have the same kind of increase over Week 1 that we’re used to seeing. As they say about sports, this is why we play the game. I guess my bottom line is that you should still expect to wait if you haven’t voted yet. It won’t be that bad, but do plan to take some time for this.

Voter ID problems still abound

Hardly a surprise.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

This much is clear after two days of early voting in Texas: Legal wrangling over the state’s voter identification law is stirring confusion at the polls.

Amid Texans’ mad dash to polling places this week, the front end of 12 days of voting before Election Day, civil rights groups and some voters are questioning how some county election officials are portraying the state’s voter identification requirements, which a federal judge softened in August.

Among the complaints in pockets of Texas: years-old posters inaccurately describing the rules — more than a dozen instances in Bexar County — and poll workers who were reluctant to tell voters that some could cast ballots without photo identification.

Though it’s not clear that anyone walked away from the polls because of misinformation or partial information, civil rights advocates called the sporadic reports troubling.

“Not everybody is an aggressive voter. Some people are shy and laid back, and if you’re told you have to have an ID, it might cause them to get out of line and go home,” said Jose Garza, a lawyer working for groups challenging the state’s strict 2011 voter ID law.

[…]

Now, after two days of early voting, some complain that local elections officials are only further muddying Texans’ understanding.

In Bexar County, for instance, lawyers for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said they spotted outdated posters — those describing the strict 2011 ID rules without the new caveats — hanging in at least 14 of the county’s 43 polling places at various points during early voting.

“This is a situation where the Secretary of State produced [updated] materials, and you can find them online,” said Nina Perales, the group’s vice president of litigation. “The idea that polling place supply boxes were being filled with the wrong posters is so incredibly frustrating for people who have been working on this issue for years.”

Donna Parker, a spokesman for Bexar County Clerk Jacque Callanen, said Tuesday afternoon that the old posters had since been replaced with accurate ones.

But Perales disputed that the problem was fixed, saying that her group spotted eight polling places on Tuesday that still had misleading info — outdated posters either hanging alone or adjacent to the updated signage.

Here’s an eyewitness account of a problem that occurred in Harris County. I’m willing to give the election workers the benefit of the doubt. It’s been very busy, all of this is new, and Lord knows there has been a rash of misinformation coming from the state. But that’s the point – the state has been acting in bad faith, and that attitude has been echoed by some local officials, most prominently our own Stan Stanart. The fact that there is confusion should not come as a surprise – it’s practically guaranteed. It’s all of a piece with what is happening all around the country, and the motivation for these actions is plain as day. All of this needs to be stopped, and I hope it’s high up on Hillary Clinton’s agenda after the election. The Texas Civil Rights Project and ThinkProgress have more.

Early voting starts today

From the inbox:

EarlyVoting

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart announced today that 46 locations will be open Monday, October 24 to Friday, November 4 where voters in the third largest County in the nation may cast ballots during the early voting period for the November 8, 2016 Election.  The total is approximately 25 percent more than the number of early voting locations available in the County during the previous presidential election.

“Since the 2012 Election, nine additional early voting locations have been added. Additionally, the time to vote during the first week of early voting has been extended to 6:00 pm,” said Stanart, the chief election official of the County.

“I expect approximately 800,000 voters will choose to vote during the early voting period for this election.  Preparedness on the part of the County Clerk’s Election Division, as well as voters,  is key to a successful election,” added Stanart.

To ensure the voting process is a pleasant experience, the chief election officer of the County  has a few suggestions for voters heading to the polls:

1.   Voters should confirm voter registration status. A voter registration search can be performed athttp://www.hctax.net/voter/search;

2.   Voters should study a sample ballot, mark it, and take it to the poll. Voters can download a voter-specific ballot at www.HarrisVotes.com;

3.   Voters should identify the nearest or most convenient early voting location. Voters can vote at any one of the 46 early voting locations;

4.   Voters should find out what photo identification is acceptable to vote at the poll, what other identification options are now available to vote a regular ballot, and what identification expedites the qualification process. The voter identification guidelines are available at www.HarrisVotes.com;

5.   Voters should NOT wear clothing or paraphernalia that promotes a party, a candidate or a proposition to the poll;

6.   Voters should be aware that the use of electronic devices is prohibited inside the poll. The right to cast a secret ballot must be respected;

7.   Voters should not wait until the last minute to vote early. During peak voting hours, the wait time could be  longer than we wish.

“Don’t procrastinate. Do your homework.  Then, go vote early,” summed up Stanart. “For voters in Harris County, voting early is the simplest and easiest method of voting. ”

To obtain the early voting schedule, a list of acceptable credentials to vote at the polling location and other election information, voters may visit the Harris County Clerk’s website at www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

Early Voting Days and Hours

October 24 – October 28: 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

October 29: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

October 30: 1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

October 31 – November 4: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

November 8, 2016 Early Voting Locations, Harris County, Texas
Location Address City Zip
Harris County Administration Building 1001 Preston Street Houston 77002
Champion Forest Baptist Church 4840 Strack Road Houston 77069
Prairie View A&M University Northwest 9449 Grant Road Houston 77070
Baldwin Boettcher Branch Library 22248 Aldine Westfield Road Humble 77338
Kingwood Branch Library 4400 Bens View Lane Kingwood 77345
Lone Star College Atascocita Center 15903 West Lake Houston Parkway Houston 77044
Crosby Branch Library 135 Hare Road Crosby 77532
Kyle Chapman Activity Center 7340 Spencer Highway Pasadena 77505
Freeman Branch Library 16616 Diana Lane Houston 77062
Harris County Scarsdale Annex* 10851 Scarsdale Boulevard Houston 77089
Juergen’s Hall Community Center 26026 Hempstead Highway Cypress 77429
Tomball Public Works Building 501B James Street Tomball 77375
Hiram Clarke Multi Service Center 3810 West Fuqua Street Houston 77045
Katy Branch Library* 5414 Franz Rd Katy 77493
Lone Star College Cypress Center 19710 Clay Road Katy 77449
Harris County MUD 81 805 Hidden Canyon Road Katy 77450
Nottingham Park 926 Country Place Drive Houston 77079
Harris County Public Health Environmental Services 2223 West Loop South Freeway Houston 77027
Metropolitan Multi Service Center 1475 West Gray Street Houston 77019
City of Jersey Village City Hall 16327 Lakeview Drive Jersey Village 77040
Richard & Meg Weekley Community Center 8440 Greenhouse Road Cypress 77433
Bayland Park Community Center 6400 Bissonnet Street Houston 77074
Tracy Gee Community Center 3599 Westcenter Drive Houston 77042
Bear Creek Park Community Center 3055 Bear Creek Drive Houston 77084
Trini Mendenhall Community Center 1414 Wirt Road Houston 77055
Acres Homes Multi Service Center 6719 West Montgomery Road Houston 77091
Fallbrook Church 12512 Walters Road Houston 77014
Lone Star College Victory Center 4141 Victory Drive Houston 77088
Hardy Senior Center 11901 West Hardy Road Houston 77076
Northeast Multi Service Center 9720 Spaulding Street, Building 4 Houston 77016
Octavia Fields Branch Library 1503 South Houston Avenue Humble 77338
Kashmere Multi Service Center 4802 Lockwood Drive Houston 77026
North Channel Branch Library 15741 Wallisville Road Houston 77049
Alvin D. Baggett Community Center 1302 Keene Street Galena Park 77547
Ripley House Neighborhood Center 4410 Navigation Boulevard Houston 77011
Baytown Community Center 2407 Market Street Baytown 77520
John Phelps Courthouse 101 North Richey Street Pasadena 77506
HCCS Southeast College 6960 Rustic Street, Parking Garage Houston 77087
Fiesta Mart 8130 Kirby Drive Houston 77054
Sunnyside Multi-Purpose Center 9314 Cullen Boulevard Houston 77033
Palm Center 5300 Griggs Road Houston 77021
Moody Park Community Center 3725 Fulton Street Houston 77009
SPJST Lodge 88 1435 Beall Street Houston 77008
Alief ISD Administration Building 4250 Cook Road Houston 77072
Champion Life Centre 3031 FM 2920 Road Spring 77388
Lone Star College – Creekside Center 8747 West New Harmony Trail Tomball 77375
* Indicates New Location

www.HarrisVotes.com

That of course is for Harris County. Early voting information for some other counties of interest:

Fort Bend
Brazoria
Galveston
Montgomery

Check your local county clerk or election administrator if you are elsewhere.

Battleground Texas reminds you what form of ID is acceptable:

The state of Texas has made it easier for more Texans to vote in this election by expanding the types of identification that a voter can present at the polls!

If you don’t have a photo ID (reminder of the accepted forms of photo ID here), you’ll just need to fill out a short form stating the reason why you haven’t been able to get one and swearing that you are who you say you are.

Then you can present any government document that lists your name and address. A copy of the document will do, unless it has a photo, in which case be sure to bring the original. Poll workers cannot question or challenge you regarding your lack of a photo ID.

If you don’t have a photo ID, bring one of these documents to the polls:

  • Voter registration certificate (the card mailed to you shortly after you register to vote)
  • Certified birth certificate (original)
  • Current utility bill (copy or original)
  • Bank statement (copy or original)
  • Government check (copy or original)
  • Paycheck (copy or original)

Election poll workers are prohibited by law from challenging your reason for being unable to obtain a photo ID. If you experience any issues at the polls, call our Voter Protection Hotline at 1-844-TXVOTES, and we can help.

Voters with a disability may apply with the county voter registrar for a permanent exemption to showing ID at the polls.

And here’s a guide as to what poll watchers may and may not do.

Poll watchers may look on as voters cast ballots or as officials count them. They can also observe inspection of voting machines. But they can’t talk to voters or election officials unless they are reporting an irregularity to an election officer. They also can’t make audio or video recordings or take photos inside a polling place.

The Texas Election Code includes several other rules governing poll watchers:

  • They must be eligible to vote in the county where they they are serving (or in elections limited to a smaller jurisdictions, they must be eligible to vote in those communities).
  • They must present a “certificate of appointment” to the election judge at a polling station and the certificate must come from the political party, candidate or ballot measure group that appointed them (Groups of registered voters may also appoint poll watchers on behalf of certain write-in candidates.).
  • They may not access a voting station while someone is casting a ballot.
  • State law also prohibits poll watchers — or any voter, for that matter— from wearing a badge, insignia or emblem related to a candidate, measure or party on the ballot within 100 feet of a polling place’s door.

Here are two other relevant rules:

  • Parties, candidates and campaigns may not appoint more than two watchers at each precinct polling spot, early voting ballot board meeting or central counting station. They may appoint as many as seven watchers to each early voting polling location, but no more than two may serve at the same time.
  • Candidates on the ballot may not serve as poll watchers during their own elections. State law also bars from the following from serving: current public office holders, close relatives of election judges at the polling place and people convicted of election-related offenses.

Bottom Line: Poll watching is a common practice in Texas elections, but those who do it must follow plenty of rules.

Here’s a Chron story about poll watchers and the Trump-inspired hysteria that has boosted their numbers. Make no mistake, some number of them will be up to no good and should be closely watched themselves. On the plus side, there will be no Russian poll watchers, which is a sentence I never thought I’d type. If you see poll watchers engaging in activities they shouldn’t be, I strongly urge you to call your elections administrator and county party. I haven’t seen an announcement that the HCDP has set up a hotline for such complaints, but their main number is 713-802-0085 if you need it. Now go forth and vote. I expect it will be a busy early voting period.

Stan Stanart talks election security

I have a few thoughts as well.

vote-button

Over the course of the presidential race, concern has grown about digitally safeguarding election results.

New cyber security threats seem to emerge monthly. Republican Donald Trump has repeatedly contended the presidential election will be “rigged.” And suspected Russian hackers have broken into computer systems of the Democratic Party.

“With so much news out there, people are concerned,” acknowledged Harris County’s top election official, Stan Stanart, at a news conference Thursday.

However, Stanart sought to reassure the public that all necessary defenses are up and there is no way Harris County’s election will be hacked or rigged, because it is not connected to the internet.

[…]

“Our elections are too important to leave them open to attack,” said Dan Wallach, a Rice University computer science professor who testified in September to Congress on election cyber security. “We need to do better.”

The most attractive part of an election system for a malicious attack, he said,is the voter database – in Harris County, it’s a list of nearly 2.2 million registered voters. If hackers successfully deleted it, chaos would ensue.

But the county database is kept offline, invulnerable from the outside. Even so, Stanart, the county clerk, said his office, the county tax assessor’s office, and the Texas secretary of state save a backup copy every day.

“There are many eyes and there are many triggers in the whole system that would notify us, and we would observe if there were any issues with any registrations being changed,” Stanart said. “I assure you there’s no problem there.”

Wallach agreed that the daily database backups provided excellent protection.

The fact that the voting machines are not connected to the Internet is a good thing. Dan Wallach (who is a friend of mine) has some criticism of the “secure network” setup for transferring the voting data from the individual memory cards to the central network, but I agree with him that this is an unlikely target for attack. The main vulnerability here is what it has always been, with the cards themselves and their handling. If a card becomes corrupted or lost before its contents can be uploaded, there’s no backup. This is why people like Wallach have been calling for paper receipts to be included. That problem, and the accompanying risk, cannot be solved with the current voting machines. I don’t know how big that risk is – in over a decade of using the eSlate machines, we have not had this problem, but the downside if it happens even once is enormous, and these machines are at the end of their lifecycle with no obvious path forward. But hey, maybe we’ll make it through another election.

As for the voter registration data, it’s really a question of the county’s network security overall. There are a lot of pieces to this, so I’ll just focus on the question of monitoring. As long as they monitor all changes to the voter registration file – what, when, by whom – and they have someone keeping an eye on that, then they’re probably OK.

So I tend to agree that at the very least there’s nothing new or unusual to worry about this year, and I appreciate Stanart making the effort to address that. We should always be vigilant, but let’s not lose perspective, and let’s not worry about things that aren’t worth worrying about. If only Stanart took that same approach to the far smaller risk of in person vote fraud.

Lots of absentee ballots in Harris County this year

From the inbox:

vote-button

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Our first guess at Harris County turnout

It’s big.

vote-button

Early voting in Texas for the 2016 election begins in a month. It will run through November 4. The Harris County Clerk’s office is encouraging voters to take advantage of the window, in order to avoid long lines at the polls.

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart estimates 2.2 million people will be registered to vote by Election Day. That’s about half the county’s total population.

“The last presidential [election] we had 1.2 million voters in Harris County,” Stanart says. “We are planning and putting in the infrastructure to support 1.4 million voters to show up.”

The county will operate a record 46 early voting locations this year, in order to accommodate heavy turnout for the presidential contest.

One point four million votes from Harris County would represent an increase of 200,000 over 2008 and 2012. Let’s put that into some context, to help understand what that means for individual races. I’m going to use judicial races as my main proxy for this. The questions I want to examine are, how many actual votes did a judicial candidate need to win in those years, and how many votes will those candidates likely need to win this year?

Total turnout in 2008 was 1,188,731.

Judicial race turnout – the total number of votes cast in the average judicial race – was about 1,100,000, which means there was a 7% undervote. I didn’t do the math, I just eyeballed it.

The Win Number was therefore 550,000 votes for a given candidate. In other words, if a candidate reached 550,000 votes, they won, and if they failed to reach that total, they lost. This was true for each district court race except for two: Elizabeth Ray lost 551,844 to 551,324, and Tad Halbach won 548,852 to 548,622. Note how close those races were.

For all of Harris County, Adrian Garcia was the top votegetter with 637,588 votes.

How about 2012? Total turnout was 1,204,167.

Judicial race turnout – again, eyeballing it – was about 1,130,000, or a 5.6% undervote. I believe the difference here was more Republicans voting all the way down the ballot than there were in 2008.

The Win Number for 2012 was thus 565,000. Again, there were two exceptions: John Coselli lost 567,942 to 566,248, and Michael Landrum lost 569,682 to 565,611. Again, Adrian Garcia was the top votegetter, this time with 613,103 votes.

So what does that mean for this year? Assume the estimate of 1,400,000 total votes is accurate, and assume that comes with a 6% undervote in judicial races. I’m just guessing on that, and you can plsy around with other numbers, but let’s go with it for this exercise. That means that judicial race turnout is 1,316,000 total votes, as 6% of 1.4 million is 84,000. That makes the Win Number 658,000 votes. That’s more than 20,000 votes higher than what Adrian Garcia got in 2008, when he breezed home with 56% of the tally.

Putting it another way, the average judicial candidate will need to get about 100,000 more votes than were required in either of the last two Presidential elections to win. That’s a lot of votes. It may be that this turnout projection is an overestimate – we’re all just guessing, and part of this is in response to the complaints about long lines during the primaries – but I doubt it’s by too much. We’ll know soon enough. Campos has more.

Judge orders state to reword its voter ID outreach materials

Let’s try this again, shall we?

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In the continuing fight over Texas’ voter ID law, a federal judge on Monday ordered state officials to change, where possible, the language used to inform voters and poll workers about acceptable voting procedures for the November election, according to a lawyer for those challenging the state law.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ordered state officials to abandon more restrictive language used to describe who is eligible to vote on Nov. 8, said Chad Dunn, a lawyer for Democratic U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, the League of United Latin American Citizens and several voters who lack government-issued identification.

During Monday’s hearing in Corpus Christi, the judge ordered that polling-place posters and all future communication from state officials and agencies track the language Ramos used in her August order to soften the state’s voter ID law. That order focused on the opportunity to cast a regular ballot for registered voters who do not have government-issued ID “and cannot reasonably obtain it.”

“Hopefully, we got some clarity going forward, and that message can get to voters,” Dunn said.

See here and here for the background. The crux of the argument was that the original judge’s order was to allow an opportunity for people who “do not possess SB 14 ID and cannot reasonably obtain it” to be able to vote, while the state’s wording in its election materials was that people who “have not obtained” and “cannot obtain” SB 14 ID may vote. Among other things, this led to County Clerks like Stan Stanart threatening to prosecute anyone who didn’t meet his standard of not having an accepted form of ID.

Rick Hasen has a copy of Judge Ramos’ order. As his reaction to the order shows, it was more than just the state needing to abide by the original agreement, which they themselves had a part in crafting. ThinkProgress explains.

For one thing, as the Huffington Post’s Cristian Farias notes on Twitter, Judge Ramos’ Tuesday order is stronger than a proposed order drafted by some of the plaintiffs in this case. The proposed order would have largely clarified that the court’s original order meant what it said. Judge Ramos’ Tuesday, order, by contrast, requires Texas to take several specific actions. It also subjects Texas to a kind of federal supervision similar to the oversight it faced before conservatives on the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.

Among other things, the Tuesday order requires Texas to “re-issue its press releases concerning voting to properly reflect the language in the Court’s Order,” to “edit the poster to be printed and placed at polling locations to accurately reflect the language in the Court’s Order,” and to “edit digital materials on its website page(s) that address voting rights and procedures, including titles or headlines and FAQs” to bring them into compliance with the original court order.

Significantly, the Tuesday order also provides that “the State of Texas shall provide to counsel for all Plaintiffs scripts and copy for documents and advertisements that have not yet been published for review and objection prior to publication.” As a practical matter, this gives the Justice Department (as well as the private plaintiffs in this case) the power to read over and object to new elections related materials before those materials are published.

Perhaps that will prevent these shenanigans going forward. I sure hope so. In the meantime, the Chron reports that Judge Ramos has denied the plaintiffs’ motion on the side issue of what if anything to do about clerks like Stanart. That’s a line that hasn’t been crossed yet, I guess.

We’ll see how this goes, because again, there’s no reason to take the state’s word for it on anything relating to this. KUT, which had the first story about Judge Ramos’ order, informs us of another angle:

During an appearance on Laura Ingraham’s radio show today, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says the Texas Legislature will try to pass a new voter ID law in the next session.

“I was one of the authors of our photo voter ID law that the court struck down,” he says. “We have a judge, a Democrat who’s just eviscerating our photo voter ID. We’re going to have to pass it again come January when we go back into session.”

Remember that the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Judge Ramos’ finding that the voter ID law had a discriminatory effect, and that the question of whether the law was enacted with discriminatory intent is yet to be decided. If the answer to that second question is ultimately found to be Yes, then not only is the law completely voided, then the state could be put back under preclearance under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. Given all of that, does anyone believe for a minute that a new voter ID law that meets Dan Patrick’s approval can pass legal muster? Because I sure don’t. This issue is going to provide long-term employment for all of the attorneys involved. The Trib has more.

Hearing on voter ID outreach set for Monday

Once more into the breech, to see if the state needs to get slapped down again.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas officials will be back in federal court next week to defend the state’s voter ID law, this time against accusations that they have failed to comply with judge-ordered changes for the November election.

Monday’s hearing comes at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice, which filed a complaint last week arguing that Texas was misleading voters and poll workers about acceptable voting procedures and who will be eligible to cast a ballot on Nov. 8.

Obama administration lawyers say Texas is violating U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos’ Aug. 10 order requiring state officials accept a wider array of identification — and spend at least $2.5 million informing voters of the changes — after a federal appeals court ruled that the Republican-favored voter ID law, enacted in 2011, discriminated against minority voters.

“That order is of limited use if Texas refuses to train poll workers and educate voters accurately on its plain language and scope,” Justice Department lawyers told Ramos in the complaint.

[…]

The latest legal fight revolves around language that Texas adopted to comply with Ramos’ order.

Instead of focusing on opportunities to vote, Texas adopted language saying only those with a government-issued ID or those who “have not obtained” such identification were eligible to vote, the Justice Department argued. The instructions are needlessly restrictive and would require poll officials to reject eligible voters, including those whose ID was lost or stolen and those who had to surrender identification to the state, the agency said.

In a court filing late Monday, Paxton said the language adopted by the state recognizes that Ramos ordered changes that allow registered voters to cast a regular ballot if they can demonstrate an impediment or difficulty in obtaining a government-issued ID.

“Individuals who have an acceptable form of ID but left it at home — or who choose not to show it, even if they have one — are not the intended beneficiaries of the court’s order,” Paxton told Ramos.

See here for the background. The state’s argument is certainly one way to interpret the court’s order, and as we have seen similar language has been used by at least some County Clerks, including Stan Stanart here in Harris County. It’s not the only possible interpretation, and taking such a view would seem to put local election officials as well as election judges in the position of cross-examining voters – “Are you SURE you don’t have a drivers’ license? I’m not sure I believe you” – which I trust you’ll agree opens a can of worms that would be best left unopened. The number of people who are temporarily without an accepted form of ID due to loss or theft or whatever, whom the plaintiffs argue are covered by the judge’s order, is likely small. The number of people who really do own an accepted piece of ID but who forget (or “forget”) to bring it with them to the polls is likely even smaller. I don’t see why we should worry about the latter group, especially if it is at the cost of the former. We’ll see what the judge says.

And speaking of Stan Stanart:

Monday’s hearing, set to begin at 5 p.m. in Ramos’ Corpus Christi courtroom, also will include a separate complaint filed by civil rights groups, political leaders and others claiming that Paxton and Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart have tried to intimidate voters by promising to pursue perjury charges against anybody who lies on the declaration by stating that they do not have a government-issued ID.

You can see that separate complaint here. The plaintiffs argue that the state has not responded in any way to Stanart’s comments, thus endorsing them. The concern they voice is that in the absence of any response from the state, such statements could “turn this Court’s remedy into a threat, and the right to vote in upcoming elections into a snare and a delusion”. The Lone Star Project has more.

State accused of misleading on voter ID education outreach

I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The federal government is accusing Texas of circulating “inaccurate or misleading information” to poll workers and would-be voters about relaxed identification requirements for the November elections.

“Limited funds are being spent on inaccurate materials,” the U.S. Department of Justice wrote in a legal filing Tuesday.

The filing asked U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos to “issue corrections to past press releases and other public statements” by Texas officials and “update and redistribute all electronic resources to reflect that all voters” without one of seven types of photo identification required by a 2011 Texas law may cast a ballot in November.

I told you we shouldn’t take the state’s word for it on anything related to this litigation. Let me quote from the filing to make clear what this is about:

On August 10, 2016, this Court entered an Order directing the State of Texas, Secretary of State Carlos Cascos, and other officials to implement a set of directives for the November 8, 2016 election. Veasey v. Perry, No. 2:13-cv-193, Order Regarding Agreed Interim Plan for Elections (“Remedial Order”) (S.D. Tex. Aug. 10, 2016) (ECF No. 895). The Court ordered:

“Commencing with any elections held after the entry of this Order and until further order of the Court, Defendants shall continue to educate voters in subsequent elections concerning both voter identification requirements and the opportunity for voters who do not possess SB 14 ID and cannot reasonably obtain it to cast a regular ballot.”

Remedial Order ¶ 11 (second emphasis added).

Despite the Remedial Order’s clarity, Texas’s voter education and poll worker training documents depart from it. Rather than educating voters and poll officials about opportunities to cast a regular ballot for those who “do not possess SB 14 ID and cannot reasonably obtain it,” the State has recast that language to limit the opportunity to cast a regular ballot solely to those voters who present SB 14 ID or who “have not obtained” and “cannot obtain” SB 14 ID. That standard is incorrect and far harsher than the Court-ordered standard it would displace. By recasting the Court’s language, Texas has narrowed dramatically the scope of voters protected by the Court’s Order. Moreover, the standard the State’s training and educational materials currently describe has already been rejected by this Court and the Fifth Circuit. At this critical stage, such materials should maximize accuracy and minimize confusion. Texas’s materials do neither.

Plaintiffs have objected to the State’s language repeatedly to attempt to resolve the matter short of court involvement, but Texas has refused to conform all voter education and poll worker training materials to the standard ordered by this Court that voters who “do not possess SB 14 ID and cannot reasonably obtain” SB 14 ID may cast a regular ballot. The State is about to begin a mass media campaign that should educate voters to whom this Court has restored the ability to cast a regular ballot, and an erroneous message would compound—rather than cure—the harm caused by SB 14. The United States therefore respectfully moves to enforce the Remedial Order.

Seems pretty clear to me, and it jibes with the tingly feeling I get in my Spidey-sense when I read the things that people like Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart have been saying about voter ID and the changes to the law that are in effect this November. The state needs to be made to do the right thing because it will not do it on its own. The AG will file its response tomorrow, so we’ll see what they have to say for themselves. The motion is set for hearing on Monday, so we ought to know quickly what will happen. ThinkProgress has more.

What the Harris County Clerk is saying about voter ID requirements

From the inbox:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart reminds Texas voters who cannot obtain one of the seven forms of approved photo ID that they now have additional options when voting in person.

“My office is working to make sure all voters in Harris County are ready to cast a ballot,” said Stanart. “These new options for voters who cannot obtain photo ID are currently in place and will be used in the November Election.”

As provided by a court order, if a voter has a reasonable impediment to obtaining one of the seven forms of approved photo ID, the voter may vote by (1) signing a declaration at the polls explaining why the voter is unable to obtain one of the seven forms of approved photo ID, and (2) providing one of various forms of supporting documentation.

Supporting documentation can be a certified birth certificate (must be an original), a valid voter registration certificate, a copy or original of one of the following: current utility bill, bank statement, government check, or paycheck, or other government document that shows the voter’s name and an address, although government documents which include a photo must be original and cannot be copies.  If a voter meets these requirements and is otherwise eligible to vote, the voter will be able to cast a regular ballot in the election.

The seven forms of approved photo ID are:

  • Texas driver license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS)
  • Texas Election Identification Certificate issued by DPS
  • Texas personal identification card issued by DPS
  • Texas license to carry a handgun issued by DPS
  • United States military identification card containing the person’s photograph
  • United States citizenship certificate containing the person’s photograph
  • United States passport

With the exception of the U.S. citizenship certificate, the approved photo ID must be current or have expired no more than four years before being presented for voter qualification at the polling place.

Voters with a disability may continue to apply with the county registrar for a permanent exemption to showing approved photo ID (which now may be expired no more than four years) at the polls.  Also, voters who (1) have a consistent religious objection to being photographed or (2) do not present one of the seven forms of approved photo ID because of certain natural disasters as declared by the President of the United States or the Texas Governor, may continue to apply for a temporary exemption to showing approved photo ID at the polls.

Voters can learn more by visiting www.HarrisVotes.com or by calling 713.755.6965.

Early voting for the November 8 Election begins Monday, October 24 and ends Friday, November 4.

Pay close attention to what Stanart is saying. The voter ID law was not thrown out by the Fifth Circuit. It remains in effect for everyone who has a driver’s license or one of the other forms of ID that had previously been accepted. What has changed is that if you don’t have one of those forms of ID, you can now sign an affidavit swearing to that, show one of the alternate forms of ID listed, and your vote will count. I repeat: if you have one of those approved forms of photo ID listed above, you must still use it. Stan Stanart has already made it clear that he will closely scrutinize those I-don’t-have-an-approved-photo-ID affidavits and the people who sign him. We are fools if we don’t believe him. Yes, the question of whether the Legislature intentionally discriminated by passing that voter ID law in the first place is still an open question. If the plaintiffs prevail, then the voter ID law will be well and truly dead. That hasn’t happened, and there’s absolutely no guarantee that it will. Until then, or until some other legal challenge puts a stake through the heart of these laws nationwide, you still have to show your driver’s license or the equivalent if you have it. Nothing has changed, so don’t act like it has.

Getting ready for the new voter ID universe

It’s a scramble.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

With roughly two months before early voting starts, Texas election officials are facing the difficult task of training thousands of poll workers and educating the public about court-ordered changes to a voter ID law – all while under an intense microscope.

That process is expected to be exacerbated by the sheer size of Texas, the volume of county election offices – 254 in all – an extreme time crunch and a politically-charged environment.

The heavy lifting starts now.

The Texas Secretary of State’s office late this week circulated final instructions to county officials about identification requirements for the Nov. 8 election – materials that will serve as guidance for local election administrators doing training.

In less than two weeks, Secretary of State Carlos Cascos is planning to embark on a statewide tour, where, according to court documents, he could visit San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley, among a list of potential sites, to talk voter ID.

And around the same time, Texas is poised to start recording television and radio spots set to air in October, court documents say, the first steps in an estimated $1.3 million advertising campaign. That will also include digital, print and social media ads slated to start appearing by the first week of September.

[…]

“It’s going to be a real challenge. It takes a long time to get this election machinery moving, and the closer it gets to the election the more likely the implementation of the changes will get screwed up in various places,” said Joseph Fishkin, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in constitutional and election law. “You have so many poll workers in Texas that are well meaning but not necessarily well trained. There’s going to be a lot of low-level questions about how to implement the ruling successfully.”

As we know, all of this is part of the agreement that was hammered out between plaintiffs and the AG’s office, and approved by the federal district court judge. I agree with Professor Fishkin’s assessment, and we will need to be tolerant of well-meaning but misinformed election workers, at least this year. The main danger here isn’t for people who have voted before and who have an accepted form of ID to show. The concern is for the three or four million people who will show up in November who haven’t cast a vote during the voter ID era, including a significant number of people who will be voting for the first time. What happens when someone gives them bad information, and maybe causes them to decide they can’t vote at all? And let’s not forget, not everyone has good intentions. This quote here is troubling:

Harris County Clerk and chief election official Stan Stanart, who oversees one of the largest county election operations in the nation, said Friday he does not expect any problems with putting in place changes to the law. That’s mostly because he is not expecting much of an influx of people lacking one of the state-approved ID.

“The numbers are going to be small,” said Stanart, who estimates 6,000 election workers will be trained in Harris County before November. “That’s our experience with voter ID.”

But Stanart also issued a warning: his office will look into those signing affidavits claiming they don’t have required identification. He said voters who lied will be turned over to the district attorney.

“People are signing an oath. They are swearing they don’t have an ID,” he said. “If they think they can come in and vote without an ID when they have one sitting in their pocket, that’s going to be a problem.”

Stan Stanart is one of those people who doesn’t have good intentions. That sounds an awful lot like a threat the treat people who show up with a form of ID that is on the agreement with suspicion. It’s one thing to have tolerance for honest mistakes. How much tolerance are we going to have for that?

More on the latest voting rights lawsuit ruling

Coverage from the Chron:

In contrast to the discourse over the voter ID law, it’s not clear there are many political stakes over the law [Judge Robert] Pitman tossed out Friday.

There are enough Hispanic and Latino voters in every county in Texas to mandate Spanish-language assistance at polls across the state, so Friday’s ruling does not apply to that segment of the population.

Instead, the interpreter case largely hones in on Asian Americans and other minorities in Texas, who in the vast majority of counties do not comprise enough of the population to require language-assistance at the polls, and thus often rely on interpreters. Many times, these voters are elderly and grew up speaking another language, [Jerry Vattamala, director of the Democracy Program at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and one of the attorneys on the case] said, and rely on children, sometimes even minors, to be their interpreters and helpers at the polls.

Vattamala said that in Texas, Asian Americans vote equally for both Republicans and Democrats.

[…]

Pitman’s ruling Friday may be particularly significant in the Houston area, which has a large Asian population. While he did not have specific numbers, testimony in the case indicated that several voters in the Houston area have not been allowed to bring interpreters into the polls.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon responding to questions about the case and its impact on Harris County, a spokesman for county clerk Stan Stanart’s office said Stanart is “in favor of following the law. He has asked that we follow the law as mandated by the court and required by the Secretary of State.”

The statement indicates that voters will now be able to use “interpreters of their choosing” barring limitations prescribed by other laws that prohibit a voter’s employer or labor union representative to be their interpreter.

The spokesman, Hector DeLeon, said in the statement that the county makes ballots and elections materials available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese.

“We also have advisory groups for Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese that engage the leadership in those communities to help educate the registered voters about the election process,” DeLeon said. “These groups meet to maintain close contact to engage the community, to find bilingual poll workers and to educate the public during an election cycle.”

See here and here for the background. Vattamala’s statement about how Asian-Americans vote in Texas is one for which I’d be very curious to see some detailed polling data, which unfortunately I rather doubt exists. We know that nationally in 2012, Asian-Americans voted for President Obama at a higher rate than Latinos did, something like 78-21 in the President’s favor. That doesn’t mean it was the same here – “Asian-American” is a very wide designation, covering many diverse nationalities, and as Latinos in Texas vote Republican at a higher rate than their counterparts elsewhere, it’s certainly possible the same holds true for Asian-Americans. I don’t know, and with all due respect I’m not sure that Jerry Vattamala has access to anything more than a deeper well of anecdotal data. I’m just saying I’d love to see some real data, with sufficient samples of varying nationalities to be able to draw good conclusions.

Back to the decision itself, the Texas Election Law Blog gives us some historical context on this:

The Texas Election Code is a mess, as I’ve pointed out before. Our election laws are a cruel jumble born of mean-spirited political expediency, sloth, torpor, and ignorance. One particular piece of work within this ramshackle edifice of vote suppression and general discouragement of the democratic process is Section 61.033 of the Election Code, which states that in order to serve as an interpreter for a voter who requires language assistance, “a person must be a registered voter of the county in which the voter needing the interpreter resides.”

The law, such as it is, has a long pedigree stretching back to 1918, (Act of March 23, 1918, 35th Leg., 4th C.S. Ch. 30 (H.B. 104), although a requirement that election officials could only communicate via English in the polling place was added by the Act of March 13, 1919, 36th Leg. Ch. 55 (S.B. 244), 1919 Tex. Gen. Laws p. 94), The 1919 law reflected a longstanding nativist fear (pumped up by anti-immigration sentiment after World War One) that some language other than English might intrude into the polling place; that fear is still reflected in Section 61.031(a) of the Election Code, which more-or-less tracks the xenophobia of the old 1919 law.

After the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the state law was softened to permit language assistance at the same time that multilingual ballots were provided.

But … while Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act provides that voters should be able to make use of language assistance of their own choosing, the state law still exhibits a weird reluctance to help voters out by imposing that pesky “have to be registered to vote in the same county as the voter” requirement on interpreters.

That restriction found in the state law was never defensible (given that it directly contradicts federal law), but it’s interesting that it took so long for a group of plaintiffs to find a test case to knock it down.

Here’s a copy of the ruling, from that post. The key here is that the original plaintiff who needed the assistance, Mallika Das, was voting in Williamson County, while her son/interpreter, Saurabh Das, was registered in Travis County. When he told the election officials that, he was not allowed to act as interpreter for his mother. Everything else followed from there.

Anyway, it is unclear at this time if the state will appeal Judge Pitman’s ruling, so barring any further action people who need some language help at the ballot box can bring an interpreter of their choosing with them. Which is how it should have been all along.

Harris County sued over disabled voting access

This ought to be interesting.

vote-button

Harris County, which includes Houston, has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because many of its polling places are inaccessible to voters with disabilities, a new lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice alleges.

Many polling places in Harris County, which were surveyed by the justice department during elections in 2013 and 2016, have architectural barriers — such as steep ramps and narrow doors — that make them inaccessible to voters who use wheelchairs, according to the lawsuit. The county also failed to accommodate the needs of voters who are blind or have vision impairments, the federal government argues.

Voters with disabilities are “being denied the same opportunities as nondisabled voters to vote in person,” according to the lawsuit.

[…]

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Southern District of Texas, seeks a judge’s order that would require accessibility improvements to polling places in future elections and training for poll workers about accessibility features. The Department of Justice also seeks changes to the process Harris County uses to select its polling places.

Here’s the DOJ press release and a copy of the complaint. As the story notes, this isn’t about any specific person who was unable to vote, but about structural barriers that are in place at various voting locations, and the lack of action taken to remediate the issue. A look at the letter of finding sent to County Clerk Stan Stanart in September of 2014 illustrates the problems:

In conducting our surveys, we did not review every architectural element at a polling place. We surveyed only those elements necessary to conduct the County’s voting program. We looked at off-street parking, if provided; the route from the parking or the street to the building entrance; the building entrance; the route to the voting area; and the voting area. We did not survey each facility to determine if it as a whole is compliant with either Title II or Title III of the ADA; we only assessed whether each facility is accessible on Election Day or during Early Voting as applicable. Additionally, our survey of the parking area was limited as we did not assess whether the parking area included the required number of accessible parking spaces overall; instead we indicated whether the parking area at a polling place had a minimum of one van accessible parking space. We leave the complete review of parking to the County to determine whether it is in compliance with the 2010 Standards (Sections 208 and 502).

Of the 83 Election Day facilities we surveyed, we found that only 29 were accessible on Election Day. Attachment A lists these accessible facilities. Of the remaining 54 Election Day facilities, we found that 49 were not accessible on Election Day, but have non-compliant elements that could be remedied with temporary measures such that the polling place would be accessible on Election Day. Attachment B lists these non-compliant but temporarily remediable facilities, along with a description of the non-complying elements and the temporary measures that will remedy each non-compliant element.

For the remaining five facilities surveyed, we found that they were not accessible on Election Day, and could not be made accessible on Election Day through the use of temporary measures. Permanent, architectural modifications would need to be made in order for these facilities to be accessible to persons with disabilities. Unless the County intends to make permanent modifications, these five polling places must be relocated to an accessible location. These five facilities, along with a description of the non-complying elements, may be found at Attachment C.

[…]

Given the architectural barriers at the County’s polling places, as summarized above and listed in Attachments B and C, the Department finds that the County has violated Title II by failing to select facilities to be used as polling places that are accessible (including making them accessible through temporary measures) to persons with disabilities on Election Day and during Early Voting. The County has provided no information to indicate that inaccessible sites were selected only after determining that there were no accessible facilities that could serve as polling places in the voting precincts at issue, and therefore Title II’s Program Accessibility provisions are inapplicable. We thus conclude that the County’s use of inaccessible facilities as polling places has the effect of discriminating against voters with disabilities and denying them the opportunity to participate in the County’s voting programs, services, and activities in the most integrated setting appropriate, i.e., at their designated polling place and alongside their fellow citizens.

To remedy the deficiencies discussed above and protect the civil rights of individuals with disabilities who seek to participate in the County’s voting programs, services, and activities, the County must, at a minimum, implement the remedial measures identified by the Department as necessary to bring the County’s Election Day and Early Voting into compliance with Title II. As summarized above, Attachment B to this letter specifies the accessibility barriers found at each polling place surveyed as well as the temporary measures the County can take to make the polling place accessible on Election Day and during Early Voting. Attachment C identifies those polling places that cannot be made accessible through temporary measures; the County must relocate those polling places to facilities that are or can be made accessible to individuals with disabilities. In addition, the County must assess the remaining County polling places not surveyed by the Department and determine whether temporary measures or relocation to alternative accessible sites are necessary to bring all of the County’s polling places into compliance with Title II.

Scroll down to see the named locations, two of which are schools, two churches, and one civic association building. These are all precinct polling locations. It may be the case for some that there aren’t viable alternative locations, but that doesn’t address the question of the 49 locations that required temporary fixes to be compliant. I’ll be very interested to see how the county responds to this, and whether a fix is ordered to be in place for November.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story:

Buck Wood, who has practiced election law for 40 years and served as elections division director for the Texas secretary of state’s office from 1969 to 1972, said the allegations had implications beyond one special election. Moving polling places has been a longtime tactic to disenfranchise voters living in certain areas, specially minorities and the elderly, he said.

“It is something to be taken very seriously,” Wood said, noting that violations of the ADA at polling locations is not uncommon. “Frankly, Texas jurisdictions, cities, counties and the state, have not really taken it very seriously.”

Stanart, a Republican who is tasked with selecting polling places, said the Justice Department had not provided the county with details about the alleged violations. He said his office would attempt to provide the best experience for all voters.

Stanart said he sometimes has to consider picking a location that does not completely meet every federal requirement in order to make polling places reachable for even more voters.

Wood agreed that this is a difficult situation.

Stanart said that almost all of the locations used in the May 7 election had been used before.

He called the lawsuit politically motivated and said his office had not received any complaints from voters with disabilities who could not access the polls.

“What they are actually asking us to do is disenfranchise hundreds or even thousands of voters for no one,” Stanart said.

Stanart disputed the findings of that letter I quoted above. We’ll see how this goes.

Early voting for primary runoffs begins today

From the Inbox:

EarlyVoting

“The Primary election season is not over. There are several important races that remain to be decided by voters, locally and statewide,” stated Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart whilereminding voters that the Early Voting period for the May 24, 2016, Democratic Party and Republican Party Runoffs Elections begin Monday, May 16 and runs through Friday, May 20.

There will be forty-four Early Voting locations available to Harris County voters.  Voters are strongly encouraged to visit www.HarrisVotes.com and review the Early Voting schedule before heading to a voting location, especially voters residing in areas impacted by recent flooding. “Bear Creek and Glen Cheek locations are unavailable due to the April floods.  Voters near Bear Creek Park Community Center may vote at Lone Star College. Voters near Glen Cheek Education Building may vote at Harris County MUD 81”,asserted Stanart, the chief election officer of the County.  Additionally, there are two new Early Voting  locations, Fallbrook Church to support voters northwest of I-45 and Beltway 8, and SPJST Lodge #88 to support voters near the Memorial Park/Heights area.

To obtain a detailed early voting schedule, a personal sample ballot, election day polling locations, or a list of acceptable forms of photo identification required to vote in person, voters may call 713.755.6965 or visit www.HarrisVotes.com. During the abbreviated Early Voting period, polling locations will be open from 7 am to 7pm.

“Aside from knowing where to vote, there are important guidelines voters should be aware of before voting in a Primary Runoff,” added Stanart. “March 1 Primary voters must vote in the same party’s Primary Runoff Election.  Voter may not cross-over between the Primary and the Primary Runoff ElectionEligible voters who did not vote in March may vote in either political party’s Primary Runoff Election, but not both.”

The Harris County Primary Runoff election ballot for Democrats includes twelve contests and for Republicans, six.   Democratic Primary Runoff Election voters will nominate candidates for Railroad Commission, State Board of Education District 6, State Representative District 139, the 11th, 61st and 215th Judicial District Courts, Sheriff, Justice of the Peace Precincts 1 and 7, and Constable Precincts 2 and 3. Plus, voters in Voting Precinct 398 will determine their chairman. Republican Primary Runoff Election voters will nominate candidates for U.S. Representative District 18, Railroad Commissioner, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 2 and 5, and State Representative District 128. In addition, Republicans will choose the leader (Chairman) of the Harris County Republican Party.

“I encourage every eligible voter to do their homework and then go vote early. Remember, during early voting, a voter can vote at any one of the early voting sites. In contrast, on Election Day, voters must vote at a designated polling location,” concluded Stanart.  

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Harris County, TX – Early Voting Locations
May 24, 2016 Democratic Party and Republican Party Primary Runoff Elections
Location Address City Zip
Acres Home Multi Service Center 6719 W. Montgomery Houston 77091
Alief ISD Administration Building 4250 Cook Road Houston 77072
Alvin D. Baggett Community Center (*) 1302 Keene St. Galena Park 77547
Baldwin Boettcher Branch Library 22248 Aldine Westfield Rd Humble 77338
Bayland Park Community Center 6400 Bissonnet Houston 77074
Baytown Community Center 2407 Market Street Baytown 77520
Champion Forest Baptist Church – Multi Purpose Bldg 4840 Strack Road Houston 77069
Champion Life Centre 3031 FM 2920 Road Spring 77388
City of Jersey Village 16327 Lakeview Drive Jersey Village 77040
Crosby Branch Library 135 Hare Road Crosby 77532
Fallbrook Church (*) 12512 Walters Rd Houston 77014
Fiesta Mart, Inc. 8130 Kirby Houston 77054
Franz Road County Annex 19818 Franz Road Katy 77449
Freeman Branch Library 16616 Diana Lane Houston 77062
H.C.C.S Southeast 6960 Rustic, Parking Garage Houston 77087
Hardy Senior Center 11901 West Hardy Road Houston 77076
Harris County Administration Building 1001 Preston, 1st Floor Houston 77002
Harris County MUD 81 (*) 805 Hidden Canyon Rd Katy 77450
Harris County Public Health Environmental Service 2223 West Loop S Houston 77027
Hiram Clarke MSC 3810 W. Fuqua Houston 77045
John Phelps Courthouse 101 S Richey St Pasadena 77506
Juergen’s Hall Community Center 26026 Hempstead Highway Cypress 77429
Kashmere Multi-Service Center 4802 Lockwood Dr. Houston 77026
Kingwood Branch Library 4400 Bens View Lane Kingwood 77345
Kyle Chapman Courthouse Annex 7330 Spencer Highway Pasadena 77505
Lone Star College – Atascocita Center 15903 W. Lake Houston Parkway Houston 77044
Lone Star College – Creekside 8747 W New Harmony Trail Tomball 77375
Lone Star College – Cypress Center (*) 19710 Clay Rd Katy 77449
Lone Star College – Victory Center 4141 Victory Drive Houston 77088
Metropolitan Multi-Service Center 1475 West Gray Houston 77019
Moody Park 3725 Fulton Street Houston 77009
North Channel Branch Library 15741 Wallisville Road Houston 77049
Northeast Multi-Service Center 9720 Spaulding St, Bldg #4 Houston 77016
Nottingham Park 926 Country Place Drive Houston 77079
Octavia Fields Branch Library 1503 South Houston Avenue Humble 77338
Palm Center 5300 Griggs Road Houston 77021
Prairie View A&M University – Northwest 9449 Grant Road Houston 77070
Richard & Meg Weekley 8440 Greenhouse Road Cypress 77433
Ripley House 4410 Navigation Boulevard Houston 77011
SPJST Lodge #88 (*) 1435 Beall St Houston 77008
Sunnyside Multi-Service Center 4605 Wilmington Houston 77051
Tomball Public Works Building 501B James Street Tomball 77375
Tracy Gee Community Center 3599 Westcenter Drive Houston 77042