Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Harris County results, projections for runoffs, and November

This will be the last of these until shortly before May 22 (the primary runoff election date).  And what a relief.  As I've heard it said, the nation's third-largest county in terms of population has a civil and criminal court system larger than several small countries, and getting through the primary ballot -- where some civil and judicial races are left vacant -- is no small feat for the voter.

Sidebar: In the '90's I was a poll worker at a Republican primary voting location in River Oaks -- this was when ballots were still paper, and voter rolls were six pages of varying colors that the clerks had to separate into piles after the poll closed - and one overly-bejeweled woman turned around from the counter where she was marking her ballot and said with an indignant tone: "Why can't I just vote a straight Republican ticket?!"  I carefully explained that all the folks running were Republicans, and that she needed to pick her favorite.  For some reason this did not mollify her.

It's extremely difficult to make a determination beyond party affiliation about whom to select for any particular bench without knowing much about the attorneys running.  Because of the length of the ballot, many voters quit early, resulting in a high number of "undervotes", or races in which the voter picks no one running.  There's always a small -- usually tiny, in fact -- number of "overvotes", or persons selected in more than one race, which happens not on an e-Slate but on a paper 'absentee' or mail-in ballot, mostly used these days by non-ambulatory seniors.

So if you choose to examine the Harris County Democratic primary final results with me -- this is not the canvass, which certifies the election -- you can click on, then 'election results', then pick the Democratic primary from the pull-down menu and then your format (I use the .pdf and zoom in to fill my screen because it's easier on my eyes).  You can follow these results as they update live on election night, but Stan Stanart is very slow to update them, thus the #FireStanStanart hashtag on Twitter.  I've previously blogged that his predecessor, Beverly Kaufman, had this process down to a science, and Stanart has never been able to replicate her efficiency.

I've already blogged statewide and Congressional races in two parts, so what you're seeing from page 1 to the bottom of page 8 are the numbers on how those candidates performed in Harris County only; some Congressional districts are entirely within the county, some are not.  I consult the Texas Secretary of State's office for those multi-county contests, which posts statewide tallies, which are transmitted to them by county clerks and election administrators across the state on election night.

Notice that the last two statewide races, at the bottom of page 8, for Presiding Judge of the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals -- Maria T. (Terri) Jackson -- and Judge, Place 7, of the CCA (Ramona Franklin) had an undervote of nearly 38,000, against about 138K cast, or 17%.  Compare that to the undervote in the US Senate race: under 11,000 versus 156.6K, or 6.44%.  Eighteen thousand Democratic voters in Harris County have already stopped voting.  This premise isn't absolute; some people vote just for the judge, or state rep, or Congress person they know, or like, or for that matter against one they don't.  Generally speaking in a primary election, the top races are known to the voters and many downballot candidates aren't, and a couple of hours of research prior to, and a good 15-20 minutes casting their ballot -- not including time spent waiting on queue -- isn't something they have budgeted time for.

Skip on with me to page 17, but note as you do -- if you're clicking page by page -- the very small number of votes and undervotes associated with the state representative races.  All politics is local, and there's the proof.  Again as example, Hubert Vo (HD 149) had 427 undervotes, or a bit over 10% of the 3,777 cast in his race.   But Gordon Goodman, the first countywide judicial on the ballot after all those other ballot lines, was almost double that as a percentage (135.5K voted, 31.9K didn't; a 19% undervote.  Compare to Jackson and Franklin above).

And so it goes.  As with everybody else who voted, made predictions about outcomes, and so forth, I won a few and lost a few.  Notable outcomes included ...

District Judge, 185th: Jason Luong, who squeaked past Brennen Dunn by around 1300 votes out of 138.6K cast, or 50.48-49.52.  There were 28,500 undervotes (and 64 overvotes).  Virtually every card, slate, blogger, person I talked to, etc. mentioned Luong as best or most qualified, so I was surprised the race was this close.  This is where you start to wonder if the first position on the ballot, not to mention the easiest name for people to understand, is worth something at the polls.  A topic to be explored in a subsequent post.

District Judge, 189th: Scott Dollinger prevailed over my choice, Fred Cook, by slightly more than 2500 votes, very close to the same total and undervote.  Dollinger seemed to have the higher online and offline profile to me.

Again, because you don't have much to go on in selecting who might be best for these benches, it really comes down to a handful of subjective factors for many -- I would say most -- voters.  Is this a problem for our judicial system, this partisan election of our judges?  It's probably better than letting the governor pick them, which is what happens now when there's a vacancy.

My point made and my future blogging teased, click on to page 32, where you'll find the beginning of the Harris County executive contests.

County Judge: Lina Hidalgo.  I've written from early on that she was the best choice for Democrats; when she briefly had a primary opponent, to when David Collins found her worthy (Collins himself was a county judge candidate in 2014, representing Harris County Greens, and earned 16.6% of the vote when the Democrat abruptly quit and endorsed incumbent Ed Emmett).  Hidalgo is going to run vigorously against Emmett, who has a couple of strikes against him with Harris County Republicans: one being he's a moderate in a county full of right-wing freaks; two being his efforts to rehabilitate the Astrodome into something useful.

Is that enough for the HCRP to abandon him in November?  I sure am excited to find out.  Hidalgo is going to make Harvey's devastation in the west end of Harris County a campaign topic.  In particular, the horrendous decision to allow developers to build homes in the Addicks and Barker Cypress floodplains (that began in the Eighties, long preceding Emmett's tenure), the subsequent failure of the reservoirs coming under the deluge, and most specifically the decision to release water from those dams to relieve the pressure behind them that flooded out tens of thousands of Houstonians.  Lawsuits to that effect are pending.  Quick digression: for you legal eagles, the argument is related to inverse condemnation rather than negligence.  But read this from the Houston Press.

... in 1996 a report from engineers with the Harris County Flood Control District found that Harris County's reservoir system was not cutting it, a problem that put thousands of home in jeopardy. At that time the proposed solution was a $400 million underground system that would pipe water from the reservoirs to the Houston Ship Channel. However, the advice was never heeded and the report was forgotten.

"My embarrassment is that I knew enough that this was going to happen," Arthur Story, the then-head of Flood Control, told the Dallas Morning News. "And I was not smart enough, bold enough to fight the system, the politics, and stop it."

Hidalgo received 10,000 more votes than Emmett did last Tuesday.  Bad pun: it will still take a perfect storm to oust the incumbent.  Not just a large number of sour conservatives who, at the very least, stand away from him by undervoting the race or voting for the Libertarian Eric Gatlin, but including a wave of Latin@ voters showing up in the fall.

Skip to page 40 for ...

District Clerk (runoff): Marilyn Burgess (49.23%) versus Roslyn "Rozzy" Shorter (23.42%).  The most qualified candidate to take on incumbent Republican Chris Daniel in the fall is Burgess.  Shorter has been my SDEC representative and run for a few other offices, but really doesn't have enough experience to handle the district clerk's responsibilities.

County Clerk (runoff): Diane Trautman (44%) and Gayle Young Mitchell (almost 41%) split what was left after Nat West, also my Senate District chair, came in third with 15%.  Democrats MUST fire Stan Stanart, and I think that can only get done by nominating the very capable Dr. Trautman.

County Treasurer (runoff):  Dylan Osborne (38%) against Cosme Garcia (almost 37%).  Nile Copeland ran third with 25% and just under 35K votes.  There were 29,000 undervotes.  I voted for Garcia and will do so again in May.  Probably only Garcia stands a chance to defeat the incumbent -- also a two-time loser for Houston mayor -- Orlando Sanchez, in a test of which Latino is most popular.  Democratic candidates in the past have run on a campaign of abolishing the office (to no traction from Republican voters).

Democratic Party County Chair: Lillie Schechter ran unopposed; almost 38,000 voters, or 22.65% of the total, either didn't make it all the way to bottom of the ballot ... or declined to vote for her, like me (scroll all the way to the end here for the reasons why I didn't).  I don't see that there was any backlash against her (appearance of) ethical impropriety in those undervotes; the numbers were about the same as -- even less than -- some of the judicial races above her line, including statewide judicials Jackson and Franklin mentioned above, so there's that.

I may profile some of the GOP primary runoff races if anybody cares to read my take on them, so share your thoughts about that, and anything else, in the comments.

Update (3/24):  Aubrey Taylor has some profiles of of GOP and Democratic runoff participants.  Taylor discloses that he is no longer making endorsements, but still takes ads that describe the purchasers as "duly qualified" -- see the ones from Scott Dollinger (D), Linda Dunson (D), Adrian Garcia (D), Loyd Wright (R), Latosha Lewis Payne (D), and others, in the right hand column.  There is nothing that I can glean that these candidates have done (from Taylor's posting) that demonstrates how or why these folks are "duly qualified" beyond their purchase of the advertisement on his blog and his newsletter.  Since almost all of them are judicial candidates, this re-emphasizes the problems mentioned above that I have with how we elect our judges.

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