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voter registration

The Ohio voter purge case

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

I refer to the Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute case that was decided by SCOTUS on Monday. Here’s a long reading list if you want to get up to speed on it:

SCOTUSBlog
Pema Levy
Mark Joseph Stern
Kira Lerner

Daniel Nichanian
Josh Douglas
Dahlia Lithwick
Rick Hasen
Ian Millhiser
Ari Berman
Kevin Drum

Go ahead and peruse. I’ll wait.

All right. The coverage and analysis of this ruling focuses on Ohio, for the obvious reason that this is where the case came from, and also because, as Dahlia Lithwick puts it, Ohio is the “purgiest of all the purgey states”. There’s some discussion about how this ruling paints a roadmap for other states that are inclined to do what Ohio has been doing to follow, though as the Rick Hasen piece notes there’s also a potential roadmap for blocking such efforts in the courts. What I want to know, of course, is how this will and may affect Texas. To the best of my knowledge, this kind of voter roll updating/purging is done at the county level. We certainly saw various underhanded tricks here in Harris County, like sending notices to update one’s voter registration information to known old addresses, back in the Paul Bettencourt/Leo Vasquez/Don Sumners days, but with Ann Harris Bennett in office now it’s less of a concern.

So my question is, what role does our Secretary of State play in all this, and what opportunities does our SOS have to “assist” the county election admins/voter registrars in “cleaning up” their voter rolls? What does the SOS do now, and what could our Lege enable or direct it to do now that Husted is law? I don’t have the expertise to say, and the election law-minded folks on Facebook that I rely on have not had anything to say about this. It sure would be nice if one of our professional news-gathering organizations put someone on to this question.

Fifth Circuit does its thing in the motor voter case

The sky is blue, water is wet, and the Fifth Circuit does what the state of Texas asks it to do.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas will not be required to meet a 45-day deadline to implement online voter registration for drivers — for now.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday temporarily blocked a lower court ruling that mandated a voter registration system that would allow drivers to register to vote when they renew their driver’s licenses online. The requirement was part of U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s ruling that Texas was violating a federal voter registration law — also known as the “Motor Voter Act” — that’s meant to ease the voter registration process.

Pointing to registration deadlines for the November election, Garcia ordered the state to create the online system — the first mechanism for online voter registration in the state — in order to comply with the Motor Voter Act, which requires states to allow people to register to vote while getting their driver’s licenses.

Last week, the state appealed to the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit, which put Garcia’s ruling on hold during the appeals process. That appeal could drag out for months, leaving uncertain whether the online system will be in place ahead of this fall’s elections.

See here for the background. Seems optimistic to me to think there might be a chance of a resolution in time for this election, but I suppose anything is possible. I have to ask, when was the last time the state was denied an injunction for a ruling that went against them? I can’t off the top of my head think of a recent example of the Fifth Circuit not giving them excellent customer service. I can’t even think of a reason why this might surprise me. The Chron has more.

State asks for emergency stay of “motor voter” ruling

Also as expected.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday asked a federal appeals court to block a San Antonio judge’s order that gave state officials 45 days to correct an online voter registration system that was found to violate federal law.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia on Monday ordered officials to create a process that lets Texans simultaneously register to vote when they obtain or renew a driver’s license on the Department of Public Safety website. The current system violates the National Voter Registration Act’s motor-voter provision by adding several hurdles to the registration process, the judge ruled.

Paxton quickly informed the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that he intends to challenge Garcia’s order.

[…]

Paxton’s filing argued that Garcia added requirements that are not included in federal law, such as ordering state officials to create a public-education campaign to explain the new voter-registration process.

In addition, Paxton argued that the three voters who sued lacked standing because they were already registered to vote when their lawsuit was filed in 2016.

He also complained that Garcia gave state officials only 45 days to make the changes, saying the state’s current online vendor could not complete changes before its contract expires Sept. 1, and the new vendor would need 90 days to create a process.

See here for the background. The next scene in this movie that we’ve all seen before is the Fifth Circuit giving Paxton what he wants, and then we wait for the appeals process to play out. Lather, rinse, repeat.

State appeals “motor voter” ruling

No surprise.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The legal fight over whether Texas is disenfranchising thousands of voters by violating a federal voter registration law is on its way to federal appeals court.

Just after a federal judge gave Texas less than two months to implement a limited version of online voter registration, the state on Monday formally notified U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia that it was appealing his finding that Texas was violating the law — also known as the “Motor Voter Act” — by failing to allow drivers to register to vote when they renew their driver’s licenses online.

Pointing to registration deadlines for the November election, Garcia created a 45-day deadline for the state to create the online system for drivers in order to comply with the federal law that requires states to allow people to register to vote while getting their drivers licenses.

[…]

The AG’s office tried to defend the state’s practice of directing drivers to the secretary of state’s website. But Garcia ruled that practice “is not enough” and violates the Motor Voter Act and the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause by treating voters who deal with their driver’s licenses online differently than those who register in person.

The state had also argued that there are technological difficulties associated with online voter registration even in this narrow form, particularly because state law requires a signature when an individual registers to vote. But Garcia also dismissed that argument because the state already keeps an electronic signature on file.

The state’s “excuse for noncompliance is not supported by the facts or the law,” Garcia said in his ruling.

See here and here for the background. I figure the first order of business will be for the state to try to get the Fifth Circuit to put this on hold pending the appeal. Given that court’s track record of granting such injunctions whenever the state comes knocking, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that online system to come about. The Chron has more.

State offers no fixes for “motor voter” law non-compliance

I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Told it was breaking the law, and asked to propose a fix, Texas seems to have mostly declined.

Following a ruling last month that Texas was violating a federal law designed to ease the voter registration process, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia orderedboth the state and the voting rights advocacy group that sued Texas to submit detailed plans for fixing the violation. The Texas Civil Rights Project submitted its plan Thursday afternoon. About three hours later, Texas responded with a document criticizing that group’s proposal as overly broad and once again disputing the judge’s ruling. It did not present a clear, specific solution of its own.

[…]

Attorneys for the state argued this week — again — that the state was not violating the law, and that the voters who sued them had no standing to do so in the first place. They also objected strenuously to the advocacy group’s fix, which proposed giving the state 45 days to begin allowing Texas drivers to register online while updating their license information and forcing Texas to create a “broad-based public education plan” to advertise the new avenue for voter registration.

“It is one thing to issue a ‘simple injunction’ ordering a state official to comply with the [the Motor Voter Act], it is another to micromanage the details of that compliance,” attorneys for the state wrote. “[The law] does not give federal courts carte blanche to order the State to do anything they think may be beneficial.”

Texas emphasized that it doesn’t believe the court should order any remedy. But attorneys for the state did offer some guidelines as to how that fix should be ordered. Any solution, the state said, “must be narrowly tailored,” to the problem at hand and show what other courts have described as “adequate sensitivity to the principles of federalism.”

See here for the background. It’s a bit like Willie Sutton arguing that he was just making withdrawals, and that maybe the bank should look into shorter teller lines or something. Judge Garcia, who I’m sure appreciated the pointers, will make his ruling, at which point the state will file its appeal and we’ll get to see if that ruling is ever allowed to take effect. Stay tuned.

Revisiting online voter registration

Camel’s nose in the tent alert.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas could be forced to create at least one narrow avenue for online voter registration after a federal judge ruled that the state is violating the National Voter Registration Act, a decades-old federal law aimed at making it easier for people to register to vote by forcing states to allow registration while drivers apply for or renew their driver’s licenses.

Texas allows people renew their licenses online, but doesn’t allow them to register to vote at the same time. Last week, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia told the state to fix that.

And while the Texas Attorney General’s Office has said it will appeal that ruling, supporters of online voter registration are hoping that a court-ordered online system for drivers will open the floodgates to broader implementation in Texas.

Once such a system is in place for some, supporters ask, why not broaden it to everyone else?

[…]

Legislation has been raised several times — championed in recent years by state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin — but it has never made it to the governor’s desk.

In 2015, Israel touted bipartisan support for the bill after 75 other state representatives, including more than 20 Republicans, signed on. But in the most recent legislative session, Israel’s proposal hardly gained any traction, even with the endorsement of many of the state’s election officials — tax assessors and voter registrars, election administrators, county clerks and the Texas Association of Counties.

Now, Israel says she is eying a possible online system for drivers as a test run that could help make her case at the Capitol for full-blown online registration.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about online voter registration, and this is a step in the right direction,” Israel said. “The truth of the matter is that online voter registration is more secure than our current paper process, and it is going to save our counties precious time and money.”

The only real opposition to her proposal seems to come from detractors in the populous Harris County. Officials from the Harris County Clerk’s Office have warned that online voter registration could leave the state vulnerable to voter fraud.

See here and here for the background. Don’t get too excited about this, because even if this ruling survives appeal and isn’t put on hold for the duration of the case, it’s still a limited implementation of online registration that could be ordered. That’s unlikely to change the opposition that exists, though installing a new Harris County Clerk would help in that regard. We’re going to need a lot more change in the Legislature before we’re likely to get true online voter registration, or really anything to make it easier to register people. Progress is progress and it would be great if we get even this much. I’m just saying we need to keep some perspective on what that would mean.

State ordered to come up with fix for voter registration problems

The clock is ticking.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas has less than a week to tell a federal judge in San Antonio how it will begin complying with the National Voter Registration Act, a decades-old federal law aimed at making it easier for people to register to vote by forcing states to allow registration while drivers apply for or renew their driver’s licenses.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled more than a month ago that Texas was violating the law, sometimes called the Motor Voter Act, by not allowing Texas drivers to register to vote when they update their driver’s license information online. But it wasn’t clear until this week what exactly state officials would have to do to address that — and by when they’d have to do it.

Now, Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project — which sued the state over the issue in 2016, saying Texas’ current system disenfranchised thousands of voters and violated the U.S. Constitution — have until Thursday to propose a detailed fix for the system. After that, Garcia will weigh the proposals and order a remedy.

“Defendants are violating [several sections] of the NVRA and their excuse for noncompliance is not supported by the facts or the law,” Garcia ruled in a strongly-worded 61-page opinion.

Texas Civil Rights Project President Mimi Marziani said her group will fight to get a fix in place in time for voters to register for this fall’s midterm elections. The deadline for Texas’ closest election — May 22 primary runoff races — has already passed.

The Texas Civil Rights Project has offered to work with the state to submit a remedy both sides can support. The Texas Attorney General’s Office said Friday it was “reviewing the order and weighing our options.” But a spokesman already pledged last month to appeal Garcia’s ruling.

“We are not surprised by the order … by this particular judge,” spokesman Marc Rylander said at the time. “The Fifth Circuit will not give merit to such judicial activism because Texas voter registration is consistent with federal voter laws.”

But, Marziani said, the state will not have the opportunity to appeal until after Garcia weighs in on the remedies each side proposes.

See here for the background. You’d think this would be a fairly straightforward thing to fix, for the two sides to figure out an acceptable way forward. But this is Texas, and Ken Paxton, and “solutions” and “compromise” are not their thing. So this is just another step in the process until we get to the next appeal. Round and round we go. The Chron has more.

Head of “voter fraud” troll group that sued Harris County gets sued himself

Delightful.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A conservative activist and voter fraud alarmist is facing a federal lawsuit Thursday over dubious allegations of massive voter fraud in Virginia. A civil rights group and four Virginia voters filed a suit against J. Christian Adams and the legal outfit he runs, alleging that Adams and the group violated state and federal law when it accused thousands of Virginians, many of them eligible citizens, of voting illegally.

Adams, a former member of President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission, is the president and general counsel of the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), which in 2016 and 2017 published two reports alleging that thousands of “aliens” had committed felony voter fraud in Virginia and, in indexes to the reports, published personally identifiable information about those people. But many of Adams’ would-be criminals are in fact eligible voters, including all of the plaintiffs.

In the lawsuit, a local Virginia chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens and four individuals allege that Adams and his legal firm violated state defamation laws, as well as federal civil rights laws that protect against voter intimidation. The lawsuit alleges that the reports Adams published are a form of voter intimidation against the people named in the report, and put them at risk by publishing their personal information alongside the allegation that they are felons.

See here for the background and here for more on the Virginia case. This guy is a professional liar whose mission is to keep people from voting by any means necessary. He needs to be beaten back at every opportunity. I wish the plaintiffs in this suit all the best.

Texas loses another voting rights lawsuit

Anyone else detecting a pattern here?

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Handing the state another voting rights loss, a federal judge has sided with a civil rights group that claimed Texas violated federal law by failing to register residents to vote when they updated their drivers’ license information online.

In a court order made public on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio ruled that Texas was in violation of the federal National Voter Registration Act. A portion of that law requires states to give residents the opportunity to register to vote at the same time that they apply for or renew their driver’s licenses.

It wasn’t immediately clear how Garcia will direct the state to comply with the law; Garcia indicated he will provide more details in the next two weeks. But the Texas Civil Rights Project, which represents several Texas voters in the case, said the state would “soon be forced” to change its voter registration policies — and possibly introduce its first mechanism for online voter registration.

[…]

The voter registration lawsuit was filed in 2016 against the Texas secretary of state and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Alleging that Texas was disenfranchising thousands of voters, the plaintiffs also claimed that Texas was violating the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause by treating voters who deal with their driver’s licenses online differently than those who register in person.

DPS followed the law for in-person voter registration, but residents trying to register online ran into convoluted and misleading language, the plaintiffs claimed.

Plaintiffs objected to what they called a misleading process on the agency’s website. When users checked “yes” to a prompt that said “I want to register to vote,” they were directed to a registration form that they had to print out and send to their county registrar.

Though the website specifies that checking yes “does not register you to vote,” that language has caused “widespread confusion” among Texans who incorrectly thought their voting registration had been updated, the plaintiffs claimed.

See here and here for the background, and here for the TCRP’s statement. As noted in the Trib story, this is the lawsuit in which the judge sanctioned the AG’s office for dragging their feet on meeting deadlines. We’ll know more about what this means when the opinion is published. If there is an online registration part to it, it will apply only to business related to drivers license applications or renewals. Whatever the case, you can be sure this will be appealed, and given the crapshow that is the Fifth Circuit, don’t be surprised if the ruling is put on hold pending appeals. I hate to say it, but we’ve seen that movie before and we know how it ends. Celebrate the ruling, but stay on task.

Harris County sued by “voter fraud” trolls

Let’s get this kicked to the curb ASAP.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A conservative non-profit group sued Harris County in federal court Thursday to force the county to make available records on how it stops non-U.S. citizens from voting.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation said in its lawsuit that it had requested in December to inspect records from the county including “documents regarding all registrants who were identified as potentially not satisfying the citizenship requirements for registration” and communication received “requesting a removal or cancellation from the voter roll for any reason related to non-U.S. citizenship/ineligibility.”

[…]

The foundation has filed similar lawsuits in other places like Pennsylvania and has targeted other areas like New Jersey and Bexar County.

The group has faced criticism over the numbers it uses in claims of corrupted voter rolls. Some opponents have said they are targeting Democratic-leaning, low-income areas with the lawsuits.

See here for more about these clowns. See also this story about a failed attempt by a similar group with the same guy in charge, which may have implications for efforts like this. All I can say is that Harris County had better put as much time and effort into beating back this lawsuit as it has done with the bail practices lawsuit.

Already projecting ahead to November turnout

Some in the political chattering class think the end results in Harris County this yearwon’t be all that different than what we’ve seen before.

Harris County may be awash in Democratic hopefuls for the upcoming primary elections, but don’t expect that enthusiasm to translate into another blue wave this fall.

Yes, local demographics are slowly pushing the region further left, and President Donald Trump – who dragged down the Republican ticket here two years ago – gives progressives a ready campaign talking point. Democrats also point to their nearly full primary slate as evidence of newfound strength.

It is unlikely those factors will be enough, however, to counteract Republicans’ longtime advantage in Harris County midterms, political scientists and consultants said. Not only do local conservatives turn out more consistently in non-presidential years, but Republicans also have the benefit of popular state- and countywide incumbents on the ballot, advantages made only more powerful by straight-ticket voting in November.

“There is a very slow, but steady demographic shift that will favor Democrats. I don’t know if it’s enough this year for a gubernatorial cycle,” Democratic strategist Grant Martin said.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones agreed.

“Greg Abbott represents a red seawall here in Texas that I think will in many ways blunt the anti-Trump wave, and in doing so help hundreds of down-ballot Republican candidates across the state achieve victory,” he said.

[…]

Fewer than 54,000 Harris County voters cast ballots in the Democratic primary four years ago, compared to nearly 140,000 in the Republican primary. Come November, Republicans dominated down the ballot.

Though primary turnout certainly is not predictive of November performance, it can be, as University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus put it, “a good pulse check.”

Rottinghaus said he anticipates Democrats will perform better locally than they did in 2014, but still come up short in most local races, in large part because of their turnout problem.

“You’re definitely going to find a narrowed margin for most of these offices,” Rottinghaus said. Still, he added, “it would be hard to unseat the natural advantage Republicans have in the midterm.”

I feel like there are a lot of numbers thrown around in the story but without much context to them. Take the primary turnout totals, for instance. It’s true that Republicans drew a lot more people to the polls in March than the Democrats, but their margin in November was considerably less than it was in 2010, when the primary tallies were 101K for Dems and 159K for the GOP. Will anyone revise their predictions for November if the March turnout figures don’t fit with this “pulse check” hypothesis? Put a pin in this for now and we’ll check back later if it’s relevant.

But let’s come back to the November numbers for 2010 and 2014 for a minute. Let’s look at them as a percentage of Presidential turnout from the previous election


   2008 Pres  2010 Lt Gov    Share
==================================
R    571,883      431,690    75.5%
D    590,982      329,129    55.7%

   2012 Pres  2014 Lt Gov    Share
==================================
R    586,073      340,808    58.2%
D    587,044      317,241    54.0%

I’m using the Lt. Governor race here because of the significant number of crossover votes Bill White – who you may recall won Harris County – received in the Governor’s race. He did so much better than all the other Dems on the ticket that using his results would skew things. Now 2010 was clearly off the charts. If the share of the Presidential year vote is a measure of intensity, the Republicans had that in spades. I’m pretty sure no one is expecting that to happen again, however, so let’s look at the more conventional year of 2014. The intensity gap was about four points in the Republicans’ favor, but that was enough for them to achieve separation and sweep the downballot races.

What does that have to do with this year? The key difference is that there were a lot more voters in 2016 (1,338,898) than there were in either 2008 (1,188,731) or 2012 (1,204,167), and that the Democratic advantage was also a lot bigger. I’m going to switch my metric here to the 2016 judicial average, since there were even more crossovers for Hillary Clinton than there were for Bill White. In 2016, the average Republican judicial candidate got 606,114 votes, and the average Democratic judicial candidate got 661,284. That’s a pretty big difference, and it has implications for the intensity measure. To wit:

If Democratic intensity in 2018 is at 55.7%, which is what it was in 2010, then Dems should expect a base vote of about 368,335.

If Democratic intensity in 2018 is at 54.0%, which is what it was in 2014, then Dems should expect a base vote of about 357,093.

Well guess what? If Republican intensity is at 58.2%, which is what it was in 2014, then the Rs should expect a base vote of about 352,758. Which, you might notice, is less than what the Democrats would expect. In order to match the Democratic base, Rs would need 60.8% to equal the former total, and 58.9% for the latter.

In other words, if intensity levels are exactly what they were in 2014, Democrats should expect to win most countywide races. Republicans will need to be more intense than they were in 2014 just to keep up. And if Democratic intensity is up, say at 60%? That’s a base of 396,770, and it would require a Republican intensity level of 65.5% to equal it.

Where did this apparent Democratic advantage come from? Very simply, from more registered voters. In 2016, there were 2,182,980 people registered in Harris County, compared to 1,942,566 in 2012 and 1,892,731 in 2008. I’ve noted this before, but it’s important to remember that while turnout was up in an absolute sense in 2016 over 2012 and 2008, it was actually down as a percentage of registered voters. It was just that there were so many more RVs, and that more than made up for it. And by the way, voter registration is higher today than it was in 2016.

Now none of this comes with any guarantees. Democratic intensity could be down from 2010 and 2014. Republicans could be more fired up than we think they will be, in particular more than they were in 2014. My point is that at least one of those conditions will need to hold true for Republicans to win Harris County this year. If you think that will happen, then you need to explain which of those numbers are the reason for it.

Oh, and that “red seawall” that Greg Abbott represents? Republicans may have swept the races in 2014, but they didn’t actually dominate. 2010, where they were winning the county by 12-16 points in most races, that was domination. Abbott got 51.41% in 2014 and won by a bit less than four and a half points. Which was enough, obviously, but isn’t exactly a big cushion. Like I said, the Republicans will have to improve on 2014 to stay ahead. Can they do that? Sure, it could happen, and I’d be an idiot to say otherwise. Will it happen? You tell me, and account for these numbers when you do.

You can still vote if you have been displaced by Harvey

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Ann Harris Bennett

Nikki Thomason, one of hundreds of people displaced when her Thornwood neighborhood filled with water, never thought her right to vote could be swept away too.

“Angry, angry, you know it’s kind of funny the people who are angriest with the government right now, are the people whose votes have been suspended,” she said.

Thomason and other displaced flood victims checking their voter registration online were shocked to see messages their registrations were in suspense. Many were not sure if they would be able to vote in the highly anticipated March primaries.

“What went through my mind is, why am I am suspended and why has nobody told me, surely thousands of people are in the same position,” said Kimberly Truitt-Turner, another flood victim from the west side.

Turns out, state law requires each county’s tax assessor-collector to send a voter registration cards to each voter every two years. If the post office can’t deliver the card for whatever reason and they are returned, the registration is automatically suspended.

[…]

The Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector’s office says suspended voters can still vote, they just have to fill out a form at their polling location.

“You are still eligible to vote in the March primary, you just have to fill out the statement of residency form when you go and vote,” said Mike Lykes with the Assessor-Collector’s office.

Per state law, suspended voters can not update their addresses online. They either have to mail in a change of address or fill out a form when they go vote. Therefore, elections experts are urging worried flood victims to vote early so any confusion can be sorted out. But for those struggling to recover, this is one more hurdle they didn’t expect.

It’s not really a hurdle, in the sense that if you show up to vote you will be able to vote. You will just need to fill out the change of address form. It would be advisable to vote early, because you can vote anywhere and because having a few days before the election to ensure any problems are smoothed out is a good idea, but you could go to your original precinct location on March 6 if you want to. Yes, it’s another thing to think about, but all you really need to know is that you can still vote. Just show up as usual and the rest will be taken care of.

Now if you’re thinking “But why can’t I just update my voter information online?”, well, by all means you should be able to do that. The Lege needs to pass a law to make that happen first, and you know who’s been against such a law in the past? The Republicans, of course. Previous Tax Assessors have testified against online registration bills at the Lege. That obstacle has been cleared, but there’s still the whole Republican-majority-in-the-Legislature thing to deal with. You know what might help? A few thousand displaced-by-Harvey voters making a lot of noise about this, both in the 2018 election and the 2019 session. Channel that anger into something productive, and see what happens.

Voter registration deadline is Monday

Check your registration status.

Houston-area voters are registering to vote in record numbers just in time for the March 6 primaries, and the two major political parties are bracing for yet another wave of newcomers over the next few days.

With Monday’s voter registration deadline fast approaching, both major political parties say they are seeing a definite uptick in interest from people wanting to be ready for the nation’s first in the nation political primaries.

“​We are seeing a spike in activity,” said Vlad Davidiuk, communications director for the Harris County Republican Party.

Harris County Democrats say they too are seeing a lot more interest than usual during a midterm election cycle for both the primary races on March 6 and the general election in November.

Already Harris County has nearly 2.3 million registered voters. Four years ago in 2014, the last time Texas had a midterm election cycle with the governor’s race being the top draw, Harris County had less than 2.1 million registered voters.

That last paragraph misstates the comparison. The “less than 2.1 million” figure – actually 2,044,361 – was for the November election. The truly comparable total is from the March primary, and that was 1,992,969. We’re more than 300,000 voters up on that amount. That in and of itself doesn’t mean anything, but I think it’s safe to say that turnout this March will be higher than that March, when 139K Republicans showed up for a bunch of contested statewide races and a paltry 53K Dems did the same for not much of excitement. I feel reasonably comfortable saying Dems will exceed that total. Beyond that, we’ll see.

You can check your status at the Harris County Tax Assessor, but it’s really only an issue if you’ve moved recently. The rest of you should have received your new voter registration card in the mail. I would definitely check if you haven’t received that.

Also, too, a reason to lean on your DVR over the next month:

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick may act like he’s not worried by his Republican primary challenger, but he is spending more than $1 million on TV ads in the Houston area between now and the March 6 election.

Some 975 ads are booked to run during the Olympics, morning shows, afternoon programming, and prime-time evening news hours, according to television station public inspection records filed with the Federal Communications Commission.

Spread among NBC affiliate KPRC-Channel 2, ABC affiliate KTRK-Channel 13, FOX affiliate KIRV-Channel 26 and KHOU-Channel 11, Patrick’s campaign is spending $1,049,640 on the TV ad spots that were scheduled to begin running this week through the election.

In technical terms, that is a metric crap-ton of advertising. You have been warned.

Project Orange

This is a good thing.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

This past Friday, January 12th, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez held a press conference along with Houston Justice representative Charnelle Thompson and Harris County Tax Office Communication and Media Relations Director Tracy Baskin, to announce what many are calling the most ambitious effort ever undertaken to help qualified incarcerated citizens register to vote who are currently in the Harris County Jail. That initiative is called Project Orange.

Project Orange is the brainchild of Houston Justice co-founder and Executive Director Durrel Douglas, whose first job out of high school was as a prison guard at a Texas prison. Douglas was moved to start this initiative after seeing how incarcerated individuals, who happened to make a mistake in their lives, were treated before and after being behind those prison bars.

“When we sat down to plan Project Orange, our goal was to reach out to eligible voters who are often ignored,” said Douglas. “When people have paid their debt to society, they should be able to rebuild their lives. Point blank…we want as many eligible voters to register, and vote. I don’t care what party they prefer, or which candidates or issues drive them. Our goal was, and continues to be to engage as many citizens as possible.”

As part of the Project Orange initiative, for four consecutive Sundays, beginning this past weekend, volunteers from Houston Justice will be escorted through the jail with voter registration cards that qualified inmates will be able to fill out. In addition, Houston Justice is staffing voter registration booths in the visitation waiting areas at the 1200 Baker Street and at the 701 San Jacinto locations.

“In our first Sunday, we registered 100 new voters,” said Douglas. “We have three more Sundays to go for our inaugural push. In the future, we plan to do this in other cities across the state as well.”

“Qualified” means just what it says – people who are legally eligible to register to vote. As the story notes, some 70% of people in the Harris County jail have not yet been convicted of anything. Many of them will not be convicted of anything, and many of the rest will plead to or be convicted of a misdemeanor. All of them have as much right to vote as you and I do. And if you still don’t like the idea of a dedicated effort to register a bunch of mostly low-level inmates at the jail, I have good news for you: You can support bail reform, so that there are far fewer of those inmates in one convenient place at a time to be registered. It’s a win-win.

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

The DMN asks the question.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

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

In short, not yet.

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Framing the 2018 question

This Chron story asks the question “what might it take for a Democrat to win statewide in Texas in 2018, then never actually engages it.

At the five-top table in the corner at Russell’s Bakery, a northwest Austin restaurant and coffee bar, the conversation among the five women, all self-described as “recovering Republicans,” veered from the signature cinnamon rolls and traffic to President Donald Trump and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

“I have two questions I’d like to know the answer to: Is there any way for a Democrat to win a state office next year, and what would it take for some Republicans to lose in this state?” Chrys Langer, a 47-year-old tech consultant and mother of three, asked a reporter sitting at a nearby table. “Politics has taken a turn for the worse, in my opinion, in Austin with the bathroom bill and all kinds of other conservative-male nonsense and in the White House with – well, with Trump being Trump.”

[…]

In interviews with voters of both parties, from Houston to suburban San Antonio to Dallas to Austin, the question comes up time and time again, as does an underlying frustration with governments in both Washington and Austin.

Despite that, more than a dozen political scientists and consultants interviewed by the Chronicle said they see almost no chance that Republicans will lose hold of their 23-year grip on statewide elective offices during next year’s elections, despite the fact that Democrats made notable inroads in Dallas and Houston a year ago when Trump won Texas by just nine percentage points – down from previous double-digit support of Republican presidential candidates.

“There isn’t any way Democrats can win statewide office in Texas, short of some astounding collapse of the Republicans in Washington or Austin,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University. “Winning is a habit, and so is losing. The Democrats right now have no well-known candidate, no bench, their funding has evaporated, and they have no experience in their volunteer base. The Republicans have all of that.

“And at the end of the day, the Republicans who say they’re not satisfied with things will vote for a Republican because, with the polarization of the political process in recent years, Democrats are now seen as enemies of the state, and they won’t jump across and vote for them.”

Jillson’s sentiments echoed those of all the others, even with the so-called “Trump Factor” that Democrats are touting as a key to some unexpected victories in the November 2018 elections.

“Trump’s approval rating would have to drop into the teens where it might hurt Abbott and Patrick and the other Republicans on the ballot in Texas, and even then I doubt the effect would be significant,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. “Even though the Democrats will try to tie Abbott and Patrick as close to Trump as they can, every time they get a chance, they can distance themselves from Trump because Texas voters in a midterm election pay more attention to state issues than Washington.”

Let me begin by saying that Rottinghaus’ statement about midterm elections is not at all in line with the results of at least the last four midterms, at least as far as Republican turnout goes. If you don’t think Texas is reflective of the national climate, I’m not sure what to tell you.

That’s the first thing to think about when considering possibilities for 2018: What will Republican turnout look like? On the one end, we have 2006, where statewide Republican vote totals ranged from 2,135,612 to 2,661,789. On the other end, there’s 2010 where the low was 2,737,481 and the high was 3,151,064 (I’m skipping races where there was no Democratic challenger, such as Comptroller in 2010). In between is 2014, with a range from 2,691,417 to 2,827,584. Which of those years will 2018 most closely resemble? Obviously, a 2006-style year makes for a more competitive environment for Democrats, but it’s not something Dems have control over. What are the factors that might lead one to expect a 2006 versus a 2014 or a 2010? Polls, fundraising, tone of rhetoric and advertising, Presidential popularity, some combination, something else? Put those PhDs to use and give me your thoughts on that.

Then there’s Democratic turnout, which as I’ve noted ad nauseum has remained stubbornly flat since 2002. The high end, with a few exceptions, has been around 1.8 million. If Dems could boost their base turnout by about 600K votes – that is, roughly the boost Republicans got from 2006 to 2010 – they’d be at 2.4 million, which would have been enough to capture the three Commissioner races and two contested judicial seats in 2006. Two point four million represents about two-thirds of the 2016 overall turnout for Dems, which again is about what Republicans achieved in 2010 over 2008. What factors might make a political science professor think such an achievement was possible? We know that the key in Harris County in 2016 was a big increase in voter registration, which in turn led to a much larger pool of Democratic-aligned voters. Dems may not have the infrastructure Republicans have enjoyed, but there are now multiple grassroots organizations – Pantsuit Nation, Indivisible, Our Revolution, the scaled-down version of Battleground Texas – that are out there engaging and registering and doing the things Dems should have been doing all along. Multiple Democratic Congressional candidates continue to excel at fundraising. Again, what do the people that the newsies reach out to for comment think of all that? What if anything might make them think there’s something happening here?

Picking the Republicans to hold serve again is very likely to be accurate, but it’s not very interesting. It doesn’t address the obvious fact that the climate is very different now, so it doesn’t give us any way to think about how that might change what could happen in 13 months – or five months, if you want to ask the same question about the primaries. It will be much harder to answer these questions than it was for me to ask them, and those answers may well change over the next year and a month, but surely we should be asking them anyway. I’d like to think I’m not the only one thinking along these lines.

SOS halted from handing over voter info

Good.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Lawsuit filed over giving voter data to bogus Trump commission

I missed this last week.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

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

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

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

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

ACLU seeks information about state’s compliance with Trump election commission

From the inbox:

Today the ACLU of Texas filed an open records request with the Texas Secretary of State seeking documentation related to the State’s compliance with the federal Election Integrity Commission, which had asked states to submit voters’ full names, the last four digits of their social security numbers, their voting histories and information regarding felony convictions. The ACLU’s request seeks all communications between the Texas Secretary of State and the Election Integrity Commission, including records relating to the “views and recommendations” Texas submitted at the Commission’s request.

“The true threat to electoral integrity is voter suppression, not voter fraud,” said Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “This nonsense of voter fraud is a lie peddled by politicians complicit in a corrupt scheme to rig elections by keeping minority and low-income Americans away from the polls. We are demanding this information of state officials to ensure they are doing everything they can to advance the right to vote, not threaten it.”

The ACLU of Texas’s request comes days after the ACLU national office sued the Trump administration over the Commission’s failure to comply with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, a law that guarantees transparency and public accountability of advisory committees.

“The President’s Election Integrity Commission is a voter suppression machine, pure and simple” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “It threatens our right to privacy, endangers the foundations of our democracy, and its mission is based on a lie. No wonder it conducts its business behind closed doors.”

The Commission’s vice chairman Kris Kobach, who requested the sensitive voter information, was recently fined $1,000 by a federal magistrate judge in a voting-related lawsuit for “deceptive conduct and lack of candor.” The judge said that Kobach and his legal team had “made patently misleading representations to the court.”

The ACLU of Texas is not requesting any information related to private voter information or voter roll data.

See here for a copy of the open records request, and here for a copy of the ACLU’s lawsuit against the Trump Commission, which is one of seven that have been filed so far around the country. This phony commission is all about suppressing the vote. It needs to be resisted on every front.

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.

Not many states are honoring that “give us your voter data” request

Glad to hear it.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have refused to provide certain types of voter information to the Trump administration’s election integrity commission, according to a CNN inquiry to all 50 states.

State leaders and voting boards across the country have responded to the letter with varying degrees of cooperation — from altogether rejecting the request to expressing eagerness to supply information that is public.

[…]

But the commission, which is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, seemed to misunderstand voter privacy laws nationwide. Every state that responded to the commission’s letter said it could not provide Social Security numbers, for example. Others said they consider information such as birth dates and party affiliations to be private.

What’s more, Kobach asked states to supply the information through an online portal. Many states have rejected this specific request, noting that the commission should file a voter information request through established state websites, as any other party would.

As of Tuesday afternoon, two states — Florida and Nebraska — are still reviewing the commission’s request. Another two states — Hawaii and New Jersey — have not returned CNN’s request for comment. And while six states are still awaiting a letter from the commission, four of them — New Mexico, Michigan, South Carolina and West Virginia — have already pledged not to provide voters’ private information. The other two of those six states, Arkansas and Illinois, have not released statements ahead of receiving the letter.

Just three states — Colorado, Missouri and Tennessee — commended Kobach’s attempt to investigate voter fraud in their respective statements.

See here for the background. You can see a list of how each state responded at the bottom of the article. In the meantime, the DMN has the details about how Texas will respond.

Texas will release voters’ full names, addresses, dates of birth, voter history dating back to 2006 and a person’s voting status, according to the list that the office provided to The Dallas Morning News. Officials said the federal commission’s request is being treated as a public records request.

The secretary of state’s list did not quell concerns about how the information will be used. Justin Levitt, an election expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the information is protected against commercial use by state law.

But it will be publicly available once the state hands it over to the commission, which could lead to people sidestepping Texas law to gain access to voter information for commercial gains.

“If I’m someone that can really use this data to sell you something, I may not be able to get it from Texas, but I can turn around and go to the federal commission and get it from them,” Levitt said.

[…]

Levitt said Texas could deny the request on the grounds that the commission is violating federal laws, including the Privacy Act of 1974. Under that law, the federal government has to inform Congress that it is collecting information on individuals and explain why. It would also need to tell the public it was collecting the information and lay out guidelines for protecting it.

The law rarely allows for such information collection with few exceptions, Levitt said.

“Some of the information that Kobach has requested and the secretary of state has said he would release, like voter history and political party, seems squarely in the prohibitions the federal government isn’t supposed to collect,” Levitt said.

“There is absolutely no connection between political party and whether you can vote or not,” he added. “I cannot see a legitimate reason why they want it.”

Sounds like an opportunity for a lawsuit to me. If Mississippi can tell the Trump commission to go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, I don’t see why Texas ought to be handing this data over without at least a cursory inquiry as to who will have access to it and how it will be safeguarded. And if you find yourself getting more junk mail afterwards, you will know who to thank for it. Slate has more.

Texas will turn over some voter info to Trump vote “fraud” commission

I have three things to say about this:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas will hand over personal information of the state’s more than 15 million voters to President Donald Trump’s commission that is looking into voter fraud.

Secretary of State Rolando Pablos said his office will share any publicly available information with Trump’s commission as requested, including the names, addresses, dates of birth and political party affiliations. But the state will not be sharing partial social security numbers as Trump’s commission asked for because that information is not part of Texas’ voter rolls.

“The Secretary of State’s office will provide the Election Integrity Commission with public information and will protect the private information of Texas citizens while working to maintain the security and integrity of our state’s elections system,” Pablos said. “As always, my office will continue to exercise the utmost care whenever sensitive voter information is required to be released by state or federal law.”

Pablos’ comments come as governors in some states have flat out refused a request by the commission this week to hand over data.

[…]

The White House on Friday responded by questioning why states would refuse to hand over the information to the commission.

“I think that’s mostly a political stunt,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in Washington.

Using an executive order, Trump on May 11 created his commission to go after what he has told Republicans was 3 million to 5 million illegal votes cast in the 2016 election — a claim that has not been verifiable.

1. Let’s be very clear that Kris Kobach is an extreme partisan hack whose primary interest is in making it harder/impossible for as many people to vote as he can. He has a long track record of doing this, along with a long track record of being extremely anti-immigrant. Other members of this travesty have similar track records. This is a star chamber whose existence is owed to a giant lie about “illegal” votes. The whole point of this exercise is to purge people off of state voter rolls, just as the Dubya Bush-era Justice Department tried to do, featuring some of the same cast of deplorables as today. There is zero legitimacy to any of this. It is all malevolent.

2. As the Texas Election Law Blog notes, the state of Texas is legally prohibited from supplying confidential information (which includes Social Security numbers and Texas drivers license numbers) to the commission. Which is nice, but it’s hardly a guarantee. For example, as Sondra Haltom reminds us:

You should know that a bill was proposed this past session (HB 3422 by Laubenberg and Fallon) that would have allowed the TX SOS to provide voters’ Social Security numbers to Kobach as part of his Kansas Interstate Voter Crosscheck (read: flawed, illegal voter purge) program. Luckily it died, but not before it got out of the House Elections Committee. Just FYI. Sleep well.

And as Glen Maxey reminds us, it could be even worse:

Two sessions ago, the Republicans passed “Crosscheck” through the Texas legislature. This was a program to send all our voter data to the state of Kansas who ran a program to cross check it to other participating states to find “duplicates”. I fought it vigorously, but it passed. That program is run by Mr. Kobach, Kansas Sec. of State.

Our SOS didn’t implement the program because there was another statute in the Government code that prohibited sending dates of birth and social security and driver’s license numbers to others.

Maxey appears to be referring to SB 795 from 2015. I’m not enough of an expert to tell you the difference between these bills. What I can tell you is that there’s nothing stopping Greg Abbott from adding an item to require compliance to this sham commission to the special session agenda.

3. Remember when Texas leaders would file a lawsuit rather than comply with anything the federal government wanted them to do? Boy, those were the days. Can you even imagine the reaction from Abbott and Patrick and Paxton if the Obama administration or (sigh) a Clinton administration had tried this? Daily Kos, the WaPo, the Trib, the NYT, NPR, and Rick Hasen have more.

Maybe we should be a little more concerned about election security?

Just a thought.

Russia’s cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system before Donald Trump’s election was far more widespread than has been publicly revealed, including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported.

In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data. The hackers accessed software designed to be used by poll workers on Election Day, and in at least one state accessed a campaign finance database. Details of the wave of attacks, in the summer and fall of 2016, were provided by three people with direct knowledge of the U.S. investigation into the matter. In all, the Russian hackers hit systems in a total of 39 states, one of them said.

The scope and sophistication so concerned Obama administration officials that they took an unprecedented step — complaining directly to Moscow over a modern-day “red phone.” In October, two of the people said, the White House contacted the Kremlin on the back channel to offer detailed documents of what it said was Russia’s role in election meddling and to warn that the attacks risked setting off a broader conflict.

The new details, buttressed by a classified National Security Agency document recently disclosed by the Intercept, show the scope of alleged hacking that federal investigators are scrutinizing as they look into whether Trump campaign officials may have colluded in the efforts. But they also paint a worrisome picture for future elections: The newest portrayal of potentially deep vulnerabilities in the U.S.’s patchwork of voting technologies comes less than a week after former FBI Director James Comey warned Congress that Moscow isn’t done meddling.

“They’re coming after America,” Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the election. “They will be back.”

[…]

One of the mysteries about the 2016 presidential election is why Russian intelligence, after gaining access to state and local systems, didn’t try to disrupt the vote. One possibility is that the American warning was effective. Another former senior U.S. official, who asked for anonymity to discuss the classified U.S. probe into pre-election hacking, said a more likely explanation is that several months of hacking failed to give the attackers the access they needed to master America’s disparate voting systems spread across more than 7,000 local jurisdictions.

Such operations need not change votes to be effective. In fact, the Obama administration believed that the Russians were possibly preparing to delete voter registration information or slow vote tallying in order to undermine confidence in the election. That effort went far beyond the carefully timed release of private communications by individuals and parties.

One former senior U.S. official expressed concern that the Russians now have three years to build on their knowledge of U.S. voting systems before the next presidential election, and there is every reason to believe they will use what they have learned in future attacks.

To put this another way, you don’t have to hack voting machines to wreak havoc on our elections. Simply undermining confidence in the process is enough. And unfortunately, Republicans like Mitch McConnell were not at all interested in any of this last year, so don’t hold out hope that they will want to take action about it for next time. There’s a lot of work to be done to fix this mess. Daily Kos and Chalie Pierce have more.

Nonprofit VOTE report on voter turnout

For your perusal.

NATIONAL TURNOUT

Voter turnout exceeded 2012 at a level consistent with the last three presidential elections.

  • 60.2% of the nation’s 231 million eligible voters cast ballots, according to ballots counted and certified by state election boards, compared to 58.6% turnout in 2012.
  • Four in ten eligible voters didn’t vote. Among the most common reasons voters cite for not voting are a lack of competition and meaningful choices on the ballot or problems with their voter registration or getting to the polls

STATE TURNOUT RANKINGS

The two factors that consistently correlate with higher voter participation are the ability to fix a registration issue when you vote and living in a battleground state.

Same Day Voter Registration

  • The six highest-ranking states offered same day voter registration (SDR), which allows voters to register or fix a registration problem when they vote (In order – Minnesota, Maine, New Hampshire, Colorado, Wisconsin and Iowa).
  • Voter turnout in states with SDR was seven points higher than states without the option, consistent with every election since the policy was first introduced in the 1970s.
  • The significant turnout advantage of SDR states has persisted even as four new states (Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois and Maryland) implemented the policy since the 2012 election.

Automatic Voter Registration (AVR)

  • Oregon, the first state to implement AVR, saw the highest turnout increase of any state over 2012 – 4.1 percentage points. AVR pro-actively registers citizens at DMV transactions.

Battleground states

  • Five of the six highest-turnout states, and 12 of the top 20, were battleground states.
  • The campaigns dedicated 99% of their ad spending and 95% of campaign visits to the 14 battleground states – well over half going to just four states – FL, NC, OH and PA.
  • The voices of 65% of the electorate – 147 million voters – were left on the sidelines from determining the presidency – living in the 36 non-battlegrounds states whose electoral votes were pre-ordained. That, in fact, is largely what happened.
  • Latino (75%) and Asian American voters (81%) lived disproportionately outside swing states and, as a result, experienced 10-16% less voter contact than their swing state counterparts and a reduced voice in the election of the president.

Lowest ranking states

  • Hawaii, West Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, and Arkansas were at the bottom five for the third consecutive presidential election. None were battleground states. All five cut off the ability to register or update a registration three to four weeks before Election Day.
  • National turnout was reduced by a full 1.5 percentage points due to low turnout in three of the four most populous states – California, New York and Texas.

That’s from the executive summary. The full report is here, and the index page with other links is here. I have been saying, and I continue to believe, that the large increase in voter registrations in Harris County was key to the blue surge this past November. It’s absolutely a top priority for 2018, and it needs to be one for Democrats all over the state. The fact that we don’t make it easy to register voters in Texas is just the cross we’re going to have to bear until we are in a position to change the laws. You want to make a difference in 2018? Become a deputy voter registrar, and get busy with it. Link via Rick Hasen, and the Dallas Observer has more.

Progressives in East Texas

Yes, they exist, and they are coming out of the woodwork these days.

“It was remarkable,” says Lee Hancock, a Tyler resident of over 20 years who formerly covered East Texas for the Dallas Morning News. Hancock is now a lead organizer with Indivisible of Smith County, one of several new progressive grassroots groups in the region, including Indivisible chapters in Lufkin, Marshall, and Nagodoches. Her group organized the showdown with Gohmert and a mid-March rally at senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn’s offices against the Republican health care bill. Nearly 400 people follow the group’s public Facebook feed. “There’s so many options to be with people who share your values and concerns and feel like, hey, maybe I’m not the only one,” says Hancock.

The grassroots groups behind such events, some formed since the election, some much earlier, reflect a diversity of causes. There’s the local chapter of Our Revolution, “the next step of the Bernie Sanders movement,” which has a member in Nagodoches running for a county commissioner seat. The Snowflakes, a Longview-based coalition of young folks who lean socialist, galvanized after white supremacist posters popped up in Tyler. Voices of East Texas, a nonpartisan group, has organized informational panels on the local impacts of national policy proposals, including a repeal of Obamacare.

A month before the election, My African-American Mothers’ Alliance co-organized a voter registration drive at the Foundry aimed at black women. The event doubled as a screening of Beyonce’s Lemonade — they called it Slay the Vote. Pineywoods Voice, an LGBTQ advocacy group formed after the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting last summer, has organized against SB6, the anti-transgender “bathroom bill.”

And, of course, there’s the local Democratic Party, which recently held a summit on “turning East Texas blue” that invited leaders of the new groups in town to introduce themselves to the party faithful. A new subgroup, Democratic Women of East Texas, organized a bus to Austin for the Women’s March.

[…]

So what are newly emboldened progressive East Texans fighting for? The bucket list varies widely: the demise of Louie Gohmert’s political career, the stamping out of white supremacy, capturing local school boards and council seats, keeping undocumented loved ones out of detention centers, protecting transgender school kids, desegregating housing in Tyler, safeguarding East Texas mosques and synagogues, defending the Affordable Care Act, bringing back manufacturing jobs, and a dozen other items.

In a way, that progressive-palooza weekend in early March — the multitude of events to choose from, some at the same time and drawing notably different crowds by age and race — points to the biggest challenge: achieving the local unity it’ll take to move the needle on any one of these issues, even by a hair.

The goals are all laudable. I’d focus on the capturing local school boards and council seats myself, but this doesn’t have to be either/or. The important thing is to get everyone on the same page, register as many voters as possible, and remember that this is a process that will take time. Good luck, y’all.

Some Texas voting rights lawsuit updates

This has been a busy week for litigation related to voting rights issues in Texas. Here are updates to some cases, all of which happened this past week.

From Texas Redistricting:

The three-judge panel in the Texas redistricting case has set a status conference for April 27, at 9:30 a.m. in San Antonio to discuss a trial schedule for the remaining claims in the case as well as the redistricting plaintiffs’ request to block the state’s use of its current congressional plan (Plan C235) on the grounds that defects found by the court in the 2011 plan continue to exist in the current plan. The court directed lawyers for the state to be prepared to discuss at the status conference “whether the Legislature intends to take up redistricting during this legislative session to remedy any violations that persist in the 2013 plans.”

The court also asked the parties to be ready to discuss the timing for its consideration of requests that Texas be bailed back into preclearance coverage under section 3© of the Voting Rights Act.

A copy of the court’s order setting a status conference can be found here.

See here and here for the background. The plaintiffs want a new map in place by July 1.

A couple of days after that happened, the plaintiffs responded.

On Friday, plaintiffs in the Texas redistricting responded in a court filing to the State of Texas’ position that it was premature to consider the plaintiff’s request to block and require a redraw of the state’s congressional map (Plan C235).

In the filing, the plaintiffs told the court that while there was sufficient time to remedy constitutional defects in the map if the process began now, “delaying all relief until the Court schedules and holds another trial and issues another merits determination would raise a serious risk that Plaintiffs will be forced to vote in yet another election under unconstitutional districts.” The plaintiffs noting that filing for the 2018 Texas primary will open on November 11 and that a number of steps would have to occur to finalize any map changes, including redrawing precinct boundaries.

Circle April 27 on your calendar. We won’t have final answers to these questions then, but we should have some idea of what answers to expect.

From the Texas Civil Rights Project:

[On April 3], Chief Judge Orlando Garcia of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas denied the state’s motion to dismiss Stringer v. Pablos, TCRP’s “motor voter” case.

This decision provides critical validation of the arguments advanced by the plaintiffs — disenfranchised Texas voters — who challenge voter registration processes at the Department of Public Safety under the National Voter Registration Act, or NVRA, and the U.S. Constitution.

One by one, Judge Garcia considered the state’s arguments for dismissal and rejected them. Judge Garcia found the state’s current procedures “inconsistent with the plain language of the NVRA,” refusing to adopt “circular and self-defeating” interpretations of the NVRA offered by the defendants. Instead, the Judge expressly found that the NVRA applies to the thousands of online transactions Texans initiated through DPS.gov every day. This ruling means that the Secretary of State should be registering and updating voter registrations for all of these individuals as a matter of course unless they opt out. Moreover, any alleged interest in avoiding the upfront expense in creating a modern system cannot justify “the burden imposed on voters” under the Equal Protection Clause.

From the beginning, TCRP has argued that “motor voter” failures have excluded countless eligible voters from the Texas electorate. The judge acknowledged the systemic nature of the state’s actions, noting that the plaintiffs had “produced evidence that thousands of Texans submitted complaints to the state that related in some way to DPS’s processing of voter registration information through its website.”

Judge Garcia’s decision comes on the heels of sanctions imposed against Texas on February 17th for causing undue delay and for repeatedly, and without justification, ignoring court orders to provide the necessary documents to move forward with the case. TCRP represents the plaintiffs with co-counsel at Waters Kraus LLP.

Mimi Marziani, Executive Director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said:

“Today’s opinion is a resounding victory for the countless Texas voters who have been disenfranchised by the state’s failure to adhere with federal law. With this decision, we are hopeful that we can resolve the case before the 2018 election so that every eligible voter can cast a ballot that counts.”

See here, here, and here for some background. Link via Rick Hasen.

From the Express News:

A federal judge has denied the state of Texas’ attempt to quash a lawsuit that challenges the way the state elects judges to the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals.

Seven Hispanic voters (six from Nueces County and one from El Paso) and a civic organization, La Unión Del Pueblo Entero Inc., allege in the suit that Latino candidates almost always lose statewide elections for judges to the two highest courts in Texas.

In an opinion issued Monday, U.S. District Judge Nelva Ramos ruled that all the plaintiffs have standing to bring the suit under the Voting Rights Act.

The judge rejected the state’s argument that the plaintiffs had failed to state a cause of action under Section 2 of the law, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has already held that Section 2 applies to judicial elections.

The ruling clears the way for a trial, according to a news release from two law firms and an organization representing the plaintiffs.

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the judge’s order. It’s not clear to me what a remedy for this looks like if the plaintiffs ultimately prevail, but in the meantime it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Rick Hasen has one of the press releases mentioned in the story; I couldn’t find any others googling around.

And finally, also from the Express-News:

Proposed legislative changes to Texas’ voter ID law won’t affect a lawsuit’s claim that the law is discriminatory, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, based in Corpus Christi, made the declaration in an opinion that also allowed the Justice Department to withdraw from the case.

The opinion follows a hearing in February in which — as directed by a federal appeals court, the U.S. Fifth Circuit — she heard more arguments about whether the law, SB 14, was passed with discriminatory intent.

The state argued that lawmakers planned fixes to be made in Austin with a measure called Senate Bill 5.

“The court holds that the Fifth Circuit did not direct this Court to withhold a decision on the discriminatory purpose claim and that the claim is not, and will not be, moot as a result of pending or future legislation,” Gonzales Ramos wrote.

The civil rights groups that brought the suit say the proposed changes, if passed in the newly introduced legislation, are irrelevant and that the GOP-controlled Legislature designed and passed the 2011 voter i.d. law with discriminatory purpose.

See here and here for some background. Judge Ramos did let the Justice Department officially withdraw from the case, so only the private plaintiffs will continue on. Her order can be seen here, in which she sets a status call on June 7 to discuss whether an evidentiary hearing on remedies is required, how long that might take, and what the deadlines for briefs and whatnot should be. This too came via Rick Hasen.

So the TL;dr summary of all this is:

1. The judges in the redistricting case will discuss wrapping up the other items and figuring out what to do with the Congressional map on April 27 with the litigants. This isn’t a hearing, just a discussion of what they all will be doing and when they will be doing it.

2. Similarly, the judge in the litigation to determine (again, under the standards set by the Fifth Circuit) whether the 2011 voter ID law was passed with discriminatory intent will discuss the schedule and logistics with the attorneys on June 7.

3. Two previously filed lawsuits, one that alleges the state of Texas does not comply with federal Motor Voter laws and one that argues that the statewide election of judges violates the Voting Rights Act, survived motions to dismiss.

Whew!

Latino turnout was up in 2016

That’s what the numbers say.

Nearly 30 percent more Texas Latinos went to the polls in 2016 than in 2012, reducing the participation gap with other Texas voters and signaling to some observers that elections will become increasingly competitive in the Lone Star State.

Non-Latino voters increased by a more modest 9.2 percent between presidential elections, according to newly released numbers from the Texas Legislative Council.

The percentage of registered Latinos who went to the polls also increased from 2012, from 47.2 percent to 49.8 percent. But that turnout rate remained well below that of non-Latino voters, which was 62.9 percent in 2016. That represented a decrease from 2012 when turnout was 65.4 percent among non-Latino voters.

As a result, the share of the electorate with a Spanish surname increased from 17.2 percent in 2012 to 19.4 percent in 2016. Latinos make up 38 percent of the Texas population, but historically vote at lower rates than Latinos in other states and other groups in Texas.

[…]

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones called the increase “notable, but not dramatic,” and said it mirrored jumps in past presidential elections.

“The Texas electorate becomes more Latino and less Anglo with every passing electoral cycle,” Jones said. “But the increase is fueled primarily by natural demographic trends rather than by a dramatic spike in participation rates among Latinos.”

State officials obtained the numbers using a count based on a list of Spanish surnames; the numbers don’t account for every Latino voter.

[…]

According to an analysis of early voting figures in 20 large counties, Derek Ryan, a political consultant and former research director of the Texas Republican Party, found that new voters are driving the increase in Latino participation: 18.7 percent of ballots cast by voters with Spanish surnames came from those with no electoral history in Texas; for non-Latinos, only 12.8 percent came from new voters.

Voter registration among Latinos also increased 20 percent over 2012 compared with 14 percent for non-Latinos. Lydia Camarillo, vice president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, said the registration and turnout numbers for 2016 elections are higher than her group anticipated, but she said Texas remains a state that puts high barriers to voter registration.

I don’t think any of this is surprising, but I don’t want to make too big a deal of it, for the reasons articulated in the second section I highlighted. What are the trend lines here? How does the turnout rate compare to the voting age population and the share of the VAP that is registered? Latino voters are everywhere, but the bulk of them are in two distinct places, along the border and in big urban areas, primarily Harris, Bexar, and El Paso counties. How have these rates changed over time in those places, and everywhere else? There’s a lot more information I’d like to have before I drew any conclusions about what this particular piece of data may mean.

One thing I do agree with is that a big driver in the increase in Latino participation is the increase in voter registration. That’s what drove the increase in overall turnout in Harris County. No question that needs to be a Democratic priority going forward, as a lot of those new registrations are going to come from people who have just turned 18, new citizens, and people whose registrations had lapsed because they had moved. You want to understand why the Legislature is not interested in making it easier to register, there’s your answer right there.

AG’s office sanctioned in voter registration lawsuit

They were warned.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal judge has ordered sanctions against the state of Texas for blowing past deadlines and ignoring a court order to hand over thousands of pages of documents in a lawsuit challenging its voter registration practices.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office’s “months-long delay” in producing the documents “has been disruptive, time consuming, cost consuming” and has burdened plaintiffs in the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio wrote in an order signed Thursday. Garcia ordered the state to pay some of the plaintiffs’ legal fees, including those tied to the sanctions request.

The Texas Civil Rights Project last March sued on behalf of four Texans who allege the Department of Public Safety denied them the opportunity to cast a ballot — and violated federal law — by failing to update their voter registration records online.

The group, hoping for quick action during the 2018 election cycle, argued in a motion for sanctions last month that foot-dragging from Paxton’s office was hampering its case. State lawyers turned over less than 2 percent of the 55,000 requested pages by Jan. 17 — a court-ordered deadline set after Texas asked for several extensions.

Texas argued that the Secretary of State’s office was busy dealing with the 2016 general election and that its legal team — with only one attorney assigned to the case — lacked the manpower to respond to the information request.

Garcia rejected those and other arguments. He wrote that Texas had never asked for a deadline extension because of the election, and he suggested that Paxton’s office had plenty of resources.

“It is critical that these issues be resolved well before the 2018 election,” Beth Stevens, voting rights director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said in a statement Friday. “Today’s order is a strong sign the Court also recognizes the important issues at stake.”

See here, here, and here for the background. At this point, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the state is deliberately dragging its feet to prevent a ruling from being in place for the 2018 elections. If these sanctions aren’t enough to compel some action from Ken Paxton, then I think the next step needs to be to grant summary judgment for the plaintiffs. I mean, if the state doesn’t want to contest the allegations, maybe it’s because it can’t. A statement from the Texas Civil Rights Project is here, and the Statesman has more.

State fails to respond to voter registration lawsuit

Here’s an update on a different voting rights lawsuit from last year.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Civil rights lawyers suing Texas over its voter registration practices are asking a federal judge to sanction the state for allegedly blowing past deadlines and ignoring a court order to hand over thousands of pages of documents related to the case.

The Texas Civil Rights Project last March sued on behalf of four Texans who allege the Department of Public Safety denied them the opportunity to cast a ballot — and violated federal law — by failing to update their voter registration records online.

The plaintiffs say they were hoping for quick action as the 2018 election cycle looms, but claim the state is dragging its feet.

State lawyers turned over less than 2 percent of the 55,000 pages by Jan. 17 — a court-ordered deadline set after Texas requested multiple extensions, according to a filing this week in a U.S. District Court in San Antonio.

“It’s hampering our ability to prepare for the case,” said Cassie Champion, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “The timing is so important.”

The filing asked Judge Orlando Garcia to hold Texas in contempt and order its lawyers to immediately produce the documents and pay any fees “resulting from their failure to comply” with his previous order. Champion said she wasn’t sure what such fees would total.

[…]

No one disputes that Department of Public Safety follows the law when Texans handle that business in person, but it’s a different story for folks who update their license information online, the lawsuit argues.

The DPS website eventually directs Texans who check “yes” to the statement “I want to register to vote” to the Secretary of State’s website. There, they can find a registration form that they must print out and send to their county registrar.

Though the website specifies that checking yes “does not register you to vote,” the process has spurred “widespread confusion” among Texans who erroneously thought the state had automatically updated their registrations, the lawsuit alleges.

Over a 20-month stretch ending in May 2015, the state fielded more than 1,800 complaints from Texans who erroneously thought their voter registration records were up-to-date after they dealt with their driver’s licenses online, according to court filings.

The lawsuit argues the Motor Voter law applies to all voters — regardless of how they deal with their driver’s licenses — and Texas violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause by treating them differently.

See here and here for the background. I know, it’s hard to believe that Ken Paxton’s office would be uncooperative on something like this. Maybe this motion will shame them into action, and maybe it will require a slap on the wrist from the judge. Either way, I agree that it would be nice to get something accomplished before the 2018 cycle gets underway. KUT has more.

Booker T still running for Mayor

He says he’s serious. We’ll see.

Booker T. Huffman

On Tuesday, [Booker T. Huffman] sat down with KHOU 11 News to tell us how he plans to court voters in this new year, nearly three years before Election Day.

“I want the people of Houston to know that I’m one of them,” Booker T said.

You may know him from his days in the ring, but now he wants to be Houston’s next mayor.

“More than anything, I don’t go in to this thinking I know everything, I’m not a politician,” he said.

The 51-year-old grew up in South Houston and even spent time in prison before making his name with a pro wrestling career.

“This is my little crew right here,” he said in his home surrounded by his 6-year-old twins.

Now he wants to focus on helping kids in the inner city and getting people off the streets.

“In our city, there’s a law we can’t even feed the homeless. I just feel like instead of having a law like that, we should have a law on how we are going to feed the homeless,” he said.

We asked him if he was prepared to run against Mayor Sylvester Turner.

“Actually, that’s a foregone conclusion. I know I’m going to win the election,” Booker T said.

He admits people will question if he is qualified for the job.

“Over the next three years, you are going to realize it’s not a publicity stunt…This is real. This is not about me, like I said, it’s about the young people in the city of Houston,” he said.

See here for the background. Booker T sounds earnest and sincere and I don’t want to make light of that, but at some point he’s going to need to come up with a more comprehensive answer to the question of why he wants to run for Mayor, and why he should be elected Mayor in place of Mayor Turner. More specifically, he might consider registering to vote in Houston sometime between now and whenever he takes a formal step towards becoming a candidate. I searched the voter registration databases in Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery Counties and did not find anyone by the name “Booker Huffman” or “Booker T. Huffman” in any of them. Just a friendly suggestion from someone who pays attention to this sort of thing.

Time once again to discuss Latino political participation

Let’s jump right in.

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez

The long wait continues for Houston and Harris County residents eager for a steep uptick in elected Latino representation.

Hispanic residents last year were 42 percent of the county population, up from 23 percent in 1990, yet Houston has yet to elect a Latino mayor, and no at-large City Council members are Hispanic.

At the county, low-profile Treasurer Orlando Sanchez is the lone countywide Latino elected official, judges aside. Even Harris County’s congressional delegation lacks a Hispanic member.

By January, however, that will change. Four of the area’s most prominent public officials are going to be Latino, thanks to three recent Houston appointments – Police Chief Art Acevedo, Fire Chief Samuel Peña and school Superintendent Richard Carranza – paired with the election of Ed Gonzalez as county sheriff.

University of Houston political scientist Jeronimo Cortina framed the rise of these leaders as providing an opportunity to boost Hispanic civic engagement.

“It’s going to send an empowering message to Latino kids that they can do it. It doesn’t matter how you look or where you come from,” said Cortina, who specializes in American and Latino politics. “People are going to get motivated, especially the young generation.”

Hispanics punch below their weight at the ballot box nationally and locally, where voters with a Spanish surname represent just 21 percent of registered voters despite being a plurality of Harris County residents, according to Hector de Leon, who directs voter outreach for the county clerk’s office.

That relatively low percentage has grown, however, as the region’s young Latino population has come of age.

Spanish-surnamed voters now make up 31 percent of Harris County registered voters between the ages of 18 and 24, according to de Leon, and a quarter of registered voters between ages 25 and 29. The share of Spanish-surnamed registered voters drops below 21 percent only among voters ages 50 and above.

Even so, voters with a Spanish surname made up just 17 percent of Harris County’s early vote this year, de Leon said. Election Day data was not available.

“If you engage Latino voters at this early age and excite them to participate politically, civically, then you’re going to be creating a very robust voting bloc that is going to be the future of the state,” Cortina said.

I don’t have sufficient data to make any firm statements about how Latino voting this year compared to 2012. That really has to be done at the individual precinct level and with the full roster of all voters. What I can do is note that in the most heavily Latino districts, participation was up this year over 2012:

CD29 – 117,291 votes from 239,552 voters in 2012; 136,801 votes from 264,213 voters in 2016

SD06 – 137,993 votes from 284,248 voters in 2012; 158,365 votes from 311,045 voters in 2016

HD140 – 24,213 votes from 53,338 voters in 2012; 28,652 votes from 59,339 voters in 2016
HD143 – 31,334 votes from 62,715 voters in 2012; 34,279 votes from 65,713 voters in 2016
HD144 – 24,673 votes from 54,579 voters in 2012; 28,120 votes from 57,173 voters in 2016
HD145 – 30,346 votes from 60,056 voters in 2012; 35,918 votes from 66,975 voters in 2016
HD148 – 40,230 votes from 71,705 voters in 2012; 49,819 votes from 79,995 voters in 2016

This is a crude measurement in several ways. For one thing, there’s a lot of overlap between CD29, SD06, and the five State Rep districts. For another, just because there were more voters doesn’t mean there were more Latino voters. Voting was up overall in Harris County thanks in large part to a significant increase in voter registrations. I haven’t compared the increases in these districts to the others to see where they fall proportionally. The point I’m making is simply that there were more votes and more voters in each of these districts, with the turnout rate being a bit higher in each place as well. It’s a start, and a step in the right direction.

As for the issue of Latinos in city government, I’ve said this before and i’ll say it again: Part of the issue is that there aren’t many Latinos who run for Council outside of Districts H and I. Roy Morales has made it to the runoff of two At Large races, in #3 in 2013 and in #4 in 2015, but that was because he nudged into second place ahead of a large field of other candidates and behind a clear frontrunner who then easily defeated him in the second round. Moe Rivera ran for At Large #2 in 2013 and 2015, finishing third out of four in 2013 and last out of five in 2015. Roland Chavez was one of the candidates Roy Morales nosed out in 2013. And of course there was Adrian Garcia running for Mayor last year, and I think we all understand by now why he didn’t do as well in that race as he might have hoped.

That’s pretty much it for Latino citywide candidates in the last two elections. Way back in 2009, when we were first talking about expanding Council from nine districts to 11, I asked Vidal Martinez why people like him didn’t do more to support Latino candidates who ran for At Large seats. I still don’t know what the answer to that question is.

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.

It’s bill-filing season

And they’re off.

Today is the first day of early filing in the Texas Legislature. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate may begin filing the bills that will be discussed when the legislature convenes in January 10, 2017. So how does that work and what does it mean?

For the most part bills are numbered in the order they are filed. However House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1 are reserved for the Appropriations Bill (the state’s budget) and the first several bills in each chamber are reserved for the Speaker’s priorities and the Lt. Governor’s priorities, respectively. Last session it was the first 40 bills in the House, so the first bill filed on early filing day was HB 41, and the first 20 bills in the Senate, so the first bill filed was SB 21.

There’s no real particular legislative advantage to filing on the first day. Once the session gets going and bills sent to committees they are typically referred in batches of a couple hundred. The House and Senate will send the few hundred bills filed today to committee in the first couple of days of referral and the dozen or so bills filed tomorrow will follow them the same day or the next. Since the chairs of committees have almost complete discretion about when to schedule bills for hearings, a bill filed today could easily be heard in committee after a bill filed tomorrow or three months from now – or not at all.

So why bother to traipse up to Austin to file a bill the first day?

The bills filed today aren’t an indication of what’s most likely to pass next session, but they are an indication of what will be the major topics of conversation. Today’s bills represent the top priorities for lawmakers – and, since every media outlet that covers the lege will run a “what got filed on the first day of early filing” article they are more so the top priorities of the lawmakers who really know how to capture the media’s attention.

That’s from Daniel Williams’ blog, and he has several other posts devoted to first-day filings. Daniel knows legislative procedures like Scott Hochberg knows school finance, so do yourself a favor and read his blog.

The Trib has a good rundown on what has been filed so far. There are actually a fair number that run the gamut from “not bad” to “really good”, though take heed of Daniel’s advice about how little Day One means. There’s also some demagoguery, and more than a few bills making a repeat attempt at passage, including such things as a statewide ban on texting while driving and a bill to authorize online voter registration. New hot topics include a bill to life the cap on special education enrollment, and a bill to authorize and regulate ride-sharing at the state level. There were more than one of those bills; the one that I’d keep an eye on is SB176 by Sen. Schwertner, who has been talking about this since the Austin rideshare referendum. His press release on the bill, which covers the basics of it, has some bombast over that referendum and a bit of BS about how local regulations of rideshare companies were restricting competition, but the bill itself seems reasonable enough. It’s not too hard to see the writing on the wall for this one, and all things considered this approach seems to be workable. Ask me again after it comes out of committee.

Anyway. There’s plenty more out there, and this is of course just day one. In the end, thousands of bills will be filed, and the vast majority of them will die a quiet death. There will be plenty to keep an eye on between now and sine die. The Chron, the Trib, Trail Blazers, Dallas Transportation, the Current, the Austin Chronicle, the Rivard Report, and Out in SA have more.

How turnout happens

If there are a lot of new voters turning out in Harris County this year, the Texas Organizing Project will be the reason why for a lot of them.

The untapped power of the Latino electorate is one of the enduring motifs of modern Texas politics. If only Hispanic voters could be persuaded to show up at the polls—so goes the narrative—the “sleeping giant” could turn Texas blue. Looking at the numbers, it’s easy to see why. About five million Texas Latinos—more than one quarter of the entire electorate—are eligible to vote. But their registration and turnout lag behind Texas as a whole. In 2012, according to Census data, only 39 percent of eligible Latino voters cast a ballot, compared with 54 percent of Texans overall.

TOP is trying to change those numbers. The organization, which focuses on issues that are important to local communities of color, has been working since 2009 to increase voter turnout among Latinos and blacks. As evidence of the group’s success, the director of electoral strategy, Crystal Zermeno, points to a 5 percent increase in the Latino share of the vote in Harris County between 2008 and 2012. Given Trump’s incendiary comments about Hispanics and immigrants, many expect that Latinos will be more motivated than ever to show up at their polling places this year. In the two months leading up to Election Day, TOP’s temporary staff—the group has 37 full-time employees—will call or visit 400,000 people in Harris County.

But Latino voter participation has remained modest because of factors far more complex than personal apathy. Latino voters are a young group, and young people generally turn out in lower numbers. Plus, many are first-, second-, or third-generation Americans who don’t have a family tradition of voting.

“For a lot of folks, partisanship or political behavior is something that’s passed down through their parents and grandparents,” says Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, an adjunct professor of Mexican American and Latino Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. “You don’t have that same custom in the Latino community.”

Nor are they accustomed to hearing from candidates, since campaigns usually invest resources in voters who have turned out regularly in the past. A recent poll found that 60 percent of the country’s registered Latino voters had not been contacted by any campaign, political party, or get-out-the-vote organization this cycle. In places like Houston, this is exacerbated by the fact that, as Lydia Camarillo, the vice president of the San Antonio–based Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP), puts it, “nobody cares about Texas.” Because it’s not a battleground state, Texas receives limited attention from national donors.

Texas also has some of the country’s most stringent laws regulating voter registration, requiring that voters register at least thirty days before the election. Still, SVREP predicts that more than two million Texas Latinos will vote this month—a 5 percent increase from 2012. To make sure that happens, groups like TOP are doing what research shows is most effective for engaging new voters: knocking on doors.

As we know, there are a lot of newly-registered voters, both locally and nationally. People who have an established habit of voting are going to vote. People who don’t have such a habit, which includes the newly registered, may need a push to get to the polls. It’s hard work and it doesn’t scale, but the kind of in-person discussions that TOP is having is the best way to do that. There’s a reason why some people are freaked out by the prospect of greater participation in this election. You want to make a difference, this is how you do it.