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Early Voting – 2014 Primary Edition

It begins again. Now is the time for Early Voting for the March primaries. I got my ritual out of the way first thing this morning. Locations are below. Hours are below that.

February 18 – February 21: 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
February 22: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
February 23: 1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
February 24 – February 28: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m

As a followup of sorts to the Substantially Similar name affidavit posts, I recently got my hands on the last portion of my request from the County Clerk’s office: the match file to show how the voter file compared to the DPS database. Media reports prior to the 2013 election had Stan Stanart saying that 40% of the names on the voter file did not match. I databased the file I received and did some crunching to see what turned up and I got 20.9% of the records that were not a perfect match. Of course, I also had a voter file of 1,871,369 voters compared to the reported 1,967,881 reported on the county’s canvass of the election. I’ve put in my questions to the folks at the Clerk’s office to see what might explain the differences and haven’t heard back yet. It may very well be that I have a file that was run after the election, or there could be other things to account for the 100,000 or so names that didn’t match. If I were to assume that the 100k missing records would ultimately be mismatches, then the countywide share of mismatches would be about 25%. For all I know, I may be comparing apples-to-oranges. But since it’s the only information I’ve got from the County Clerk, I’m going with it for now.

Now, following my earlier logic, I would assume that an odd-year election with high-propensity voter turnout would lead to less than whatever the DPS match is. As a hypothesis, I might expect the share of voters who should have been required to initial a similar name affidavit to be somewhere in the 10-15% range for 2013. I’m still in mid-crunch for the overall numbers. But early indications are that the actual share who should have initialed an affidavit are right around 20% – essentially the same as my database comparison.

A few things are turning up interesting from this work: for starters, I can gauge which locations did a reasonably decent job of efficiently capturing initialed affidavits. If the “should have” calculation is, say, 100 voters for a given day … and the “actual” count of affidavits is 90, it’s reasonable to assume a 90% efficiency for that location.

Complicating things are locations like 128P – Pasadena’s Harris County Court Annex. This location should have had 10.7% of their voters initial affidavits. In actuality, they led the entire county with a league-leading 24.5%. In other words, they were asking voters to initial affidavits for no justifiable reason. It may be completely understandable that each location would have a few voters be asked to initial an affidavit mistakenly. But I would also expect those to be more than offset by voters who should have initialed, but did not do so. Under no circumstances that I can comprehend, would you have a situation where almost three times the number of voters who needed to sign, did so. As a matter of full disclosure, the location I worked at had 4 days where our “actual” exceeded the “shoulda” count and we had one day that tied perfectly. On the whole, Bayland Park clocked in at 81% efficiency for all of Early Voting while Pasadena clocked in at 229%.

I will note that my earlier posts were passed around by the Clerk’s office to Election Judges. And when I voted today, my “substantially similar” name comparison was properly identified and I initialed the affidavit. When we’re done with the primaries, we’ll have a few new things to look for: was there progress in the administration of the law … and what do the name matches look like when broken down by party.

In the meantime, I should have all of my number-crunching done for the “shoulda” vs “actual” affidavits completed this week. Fun stuff.

Is It 2015 Already?

February 11, 2014 Politics-2015 No Comments

Close enough …

I’ll likely think of more to comment on in the week ahead. But my first thought is that after watching Sylvester in action at the Lege, I’m inclined to be supportive of him.

Whither Wiki

February 11, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

» NY Times: Wikipedia vs. the Small Screen

Great timing on my part …

The Internet behemoths Google and Facebook have proved they can still attract users and advertisers as their traffic shifts from desktops to mobile devices.

But at Wikipedia, the giant online encyclopedia, the transition to a mobile world raises a different existential question: Will people continue to create articles and edit its nine million existing ones on the small screen of a smartphone or tablet?

“This is definitely something we were pretty worried about in 2013,” said Erik Möller, deputy director of the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that operates Wikipedia with donations rather than ads. To address this concern, the foundation has formed a team of 10 software developers focused on mobile. In July, for the first time, mobile users could edit and create articles.

It’s been years since I’ve done any Wikipedia editing on my part – mobile or otherwise. I’ve been gradually tweaking txpoliticalalmanac.com ever so slowly, but that’s been exclusively a laptop endeavor. I haven’t even played with a mobile template for it and frankly, don’t care much for revisiting the slew of tables full of election data or other information to see if it all plays well on a phone.

Basically, I’m banking on micro-/niche wikis still being worth a full computer or tablet destination. That comes at a time when I’m getting more-than-accustomed to the 5″ screen on my phone. It’s enough to use as a backup Kindle when the mood strikes. Longform reading certainly isn’t a problem on it. The bigger question is whether it works as a research tool. To date, there’s a big difference between answering a question of what other movies an actor/actress is in versus organizing slightly more complicated information from recent events.

2008-12 CVAP Majority Map of DFW Metroplex

February 5, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

As below, so above. This time, I’ve mapped out the Citizen Voting Age Population majorities in the Metroplex area. For the sake of Google’s API restrictions, the embedded map only shows Dallas and Tarrant counties. But the Google Earth file will have Collin and Denton thrown in.

As always, the color coding is as follows:
- Red – Anglo majority
- Black – African-American majority
- Brown – Hispanic majority
- Green – Asian majority
- Yellow – Multicultural (no majority)

full pageGoogle Earth file

And below are the individual county counts from the American Community Survey. Of primary interest to me in this is the change from the 2005-09 ACS to the more recent 2008-12 ACS. I’m guessing I might have missed the tipping point by not looking at Dallas County’s 2006-10 or 2007-11 counts. But for what it’s worth, Dallas County is currently a majority-minority CVAP county. Shifts like that are generally more telling in terms of the political impact than the more publicly notable instances of Total Population shifting to majority-minority. And it’s worth noting that Dallas County’s functional shift to a fully Democratic county predates the CVAP shift by a few years.

Anyways, numbers and whatnot …

Dallas County:
» 0.8% Growth in Total Pop (2010 Census vs 2008-12 ACS)
» 1.8% Growth in CVAP (2005-09 ACS vs 2008-12 ACS)

             TOTAL                VAP         |   CVAP-12            CVAP-09
Total    2,379,215          1,723,795         | 1,360,390          1,336,305
Anglo      792,215 (33.3%)    663,395 (38.5%) |   649,060 (47.7%)    686,654 (51.4%)
Hispanic   908,200 (38.2%)    572,035 (33.2%) |   277,395 (20.4%)    256,185 (19.2%)
Afr-Am     516,670 (21.7%)    369,820 (21.5%) |   356,115 (26.2%)    327,939 (24.5%)
Asian      122,965  (5.2%)     93,980  (5.5%) |    54,010  (4.0%)     44,992  (3.4%)

Tarrant County:
» 0.3% Growth in Total Pop (2010 Census vs 2008-12 ACS)
» 2.5% Growth in CVAP (2005-09 ACS vs 2008-12 ACS)

             TOTAL                VAP         |   CVAP-12            CVAP-09
Total    1,814,665          1,308,680         | 1,141,750          1,063,145
Anglo      942,305 (51.9%)    741,275 (56.6%) |   730,125 (63.9%)    712,000 (67.0%)
Hispanic   484,240 (26.7%)    300,040 (22.9%) |   176,280 (15.4%)    148,758 (14.0%)
Afr-Am     266,170 (14.7%)    183,160 (14.0%) |   173,510 (15.2%)    151,795 (14.3%)
Asian       84,485  (4.7%)     63,000  (4.8%) |    42,105  (3.7%)     33,474  (3.2%)

Collin County:
» 0.8% Growth in Total Pop (2010 Census vs 2008-12 ACS)
» 3.3% Growth in CVAP (2005-09 ACS vs 2008-12 ACS)

             TOTAL                VAP         |   CVAP-12            CVAP-09
Total      788,580            564,330         |   496,230            459,505
Anglo      498,480 (63.2%)    372,840 (66.1%) |   363,715 (73.3%)    352,265 (76.7%)
Hispanic   116,000 (14.7%)     73,215 (13.0%) |    43,580  (8.8%)     36,880  (8.0%)
Afr-Am      65,390  (8.3%)     45,500  (8.1%) |    41,225  (8.3%)     33,595  (7.3%)
Asian       90,110 (11.4%)     63,425 (11.2%) |    39,225  (7.9%)     29,675  (6.5%)

Denton County:
» 0.8% Growth in Total Pop (2010 Census vs 2008-12 ACS)
» 4.0% Growth in CVAP (2005-09 ACS vs 2008-12 ACS)

             TOTAL                VAP         |   CVAP-12            CVAP-09
Total      667,935            485,050         |   433,850            397,320
Anglo      431,120 (64.5%)    327,450 (67.5%) |   321,885 (74.2%)    309,500 (77.9%)
Hispanic   121,560 (18.2%)     76,700 (15.8%) |    46,205 (10.6%)     36,715  (9.2%)
Afr-Am      53,410  (8.0%)     38,765  (8.0%) |    36,925  (8.5%)     30,280  (7.6%)
Asian       44,050  (6.6%)     32,195  (6.6%) |    19,180  (4.4%)     13,325  (3.4%)

I also added a calculation to track the percentage change in Total Population and CVAP. It’s worth noting that these numbers aren’t expected to be comparable to the CVAP change mentioned above. In the case of the Total Pop change, it’s comparing the full 2010 Census to the current 2008-12 ACS.

One important factor to consider for the Total Pop change is that this year’s ACS has 2010 as it’s midpoint. So, if you assume (as I do not) that the ACS were to have a straightline average over 5 years and you also assume (as I again, do not) that the ACS is a near-perfect estimation process, then the ACS Total Pop counts would be frighteningly similar to the actual Census number. The numbers are close, as expected. But they seem to be within a range of what I’d expect to see with some of the imperfect estimation process built into the ACS data.

The ACS CVAP comparison number is a bit more interesting to me since it reflects a purer four years worth of change and might even begin to color some expectation of what the next decade population growth counts might look like. There’s obviously a long way to go, but I think the 20% growth we saw over the last decade’s Census counts is going to be out of reach given the current pace of CVAP growth. Of course, I’m also factoring in the idea that non-citizen immigration isn’t hollowing out the Total Population counts as much as it did last decade. But who among us isn’t doing the same!

2008-12 CVAP Majority Map of Harris/Ft. Bend Counties

February 3, 2014 Politics-2014 1 Comment

A cartographic update here in light of the Census bureau’s release of block group-level CVAP data. The change from previous years is obviously incremental. I’ve added Fort Bend, Brazoria, and Galveston to the mix for this map in order to see how demographic change looks across county borders.

For the uninitiated or those in need of a reminder, here’s the story this tells:

- The color-coding in this map notes which demographic group has a majority within a Census block group among Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP). Red is for Anglos, Black is for African-American, Orange is for Hispanic, Green is for Asian, and Yellow is for no majority (in my terminology, “Multicultural”).

- At a precise level, it’s worth remembering that CVAP is an estimate and a few grains of salt should be taken for an individual block group’s change or specific counts. I didn’t include a boundary outline for blog groups for that reason. Perhaps more useful is seeing how the clusters of red, black, orange, green, and yellow move over time. And there’s a handy side-by-side comparison map for just that purpose. Professor Klineberg does a nifty job of demonstrating this over the last several decades.

With that, here’s what the map looks like this year:

full pageGoogle Earth file

And just to keep score on population counts within the specific clusters, here’s that information with a comparison to the 2007-11 counts. Also included is what the composition of the “Multicultural” cluster looks like.

Harris County

Share within:
            2007-11             2008-12
Anglo:    1,099,585 (48.3%)   1,094,795 (47.0%)   
Hispanic:   280,445 (12.3%)     305,100 (13.1%)   
Afram:      355,725 (15.6%)     368,940 (15.8%)   
Asian:        4,715  (0.2%)       4,620  (0.2%)   
Multi:      536,480 (23.6%)     554,510 (23.8%)   

Within Multicultural:
Anglo:      171,718 (32.0%)    175,193 (31.6%)
Hispanic:   161,174 (30.0%)    164,895 (29.7%)
Afram:      146,177 (27.2%)    150,568 (27.2%)
Asian:       50,373 (9.4%)      55,483 (10.0%)

Fort Bend County

Share within:
            2007-11             2008-12
Anglo:      155,760 (46.1%)     157,495 (44.6%)
Hispanic:    19,115  (5.7%)      19,265  (5.5%)
Afram:       43,005 (12.7%)      44,400 (12.6%)
Asian:        5,520  (1.6%)       8,230  (2.3%)
Multi:      114,440 (33.9%)     123,665 (35.0%)

Within Multicultural:
Anglo:       36,765 (32.1%)      39,960 (32.3%)
Hispanic:    21,625 (18.9%)      22,965 (18.6%)
Afram:       29,210 (25.5%)      31,055 (25.1%)
Asian:       25,430 (22.2%)      27,995 (22.6%)

I actually got the statewide counts uploaded into a database over the weekend (#partylikearockstar), so I’ll be revisiting all of the major population centers in Texas soon enough. Hopefully, I’ll invent some time to look at a few more major population areas around the nation that I haven’t done before. I haven’t done New York City yet, so there’s obviously some biggies on my to-do list. If there’s anything of interest outside of Texas, feel free to let me know.

Voter ID: Harris County Affidavits

January 30, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

In the process of conducting outreach for Early Voting, County Clerk Stan Stanart informed the media that 40% of Harris County voters had a mismatch between the name used for voter registration and the name on file with the Department of Public Safety. By the time Early Voting had concluded, however, only 8.3% of voters had initialed an affidavit.

While it’s to be expected that a low-turnout election rich in high-propensity voters might lead to fewer problems with the new Voter ID law in general and a 40% showing in any real-world scenario is unrealistic, it remains a stretch to assume that 8.3% of voters is a natural datapoint reflective of the law being administered as best as possible.

Instead, reviewing the Early Voting results indicates that 38% of Harris County Early Voters voted at a location where the Similar Name Affidavit process was rarely used. By comparison, 30.4% of Harris County Early Voters voted at a location where the law was administered more thoroughly. You can review a spreadsheet of the findings here, and if you wish to see the results sorted by overall percentage of affidavits, here’s that version.

For definitional purposes, the Low-End Locations are those where fewer than 5% of voters initialed an affidavit. High-End Locations are those where 15% or more initialed affidavits. And Mid-Range Locations are everything else inbetween. Comparing each cluster gives us the following results:

Early Vote Locations by Grouping

EARLY VOTE LOCATION  Affidavits  Voters     %       Share of Voters
High-End Locations     4,466     26,775  (16.7%) - 30.4% of voters
Mid-Range Locations    2,440     27,770  ( 8.8%) - 31.5% of voters
Low-End Locations        446     33,630  ( 1.3%) - 38.1% of voters

Which locations go in which cluster are broken out below the fold.

I don’t offer a particularly partisan take on how something like this happens. There are findings in the data that I think that both advocates and opponents of the Voter ID law could latch onto. Frankly, I was surprised that the data wasn’t alredy tabulated by the Harris County Clerk’s Office. But despite that, I think the opportunity is now before all involved that more work is needed for training if there’s any desire to see the law administered in a more equitable manner.

Ideally, I’d like to see data like this made more transparent for more counties. Dallas County’s Clerk offered up an incomple example stating that 1 in 7 voters had initialled affidavits (approximately 14%). But there’s nothing stopping counties from posting this data or (after an upcoming legislative session) reporting it to the Secretary of State. If we’re to place fealty to the sanctity of clean elections, wouldn’t we want to know that each county was administering the law in a similar fashion?

There remains a hurdle or two for the Harris County Clerk’s office to clear, however. Going through the data, the one location that should stand out the most is the Main Location. It’s not the worst in terms of adminstration of the law. The location, however, is all of three floors below the Harris County Clerk. It would have taken a mere elevator ride down to the first floor to spot-check how the election workers were conducting the election. And any review of the process should have turned up the fact that there was room for improvement.

I don’t offer that as an attack on the County Clerk’s office, however. This is a team fumble, I think. At my own location (Bayland Park), I ended the day with more questions than answers after a full day of qualifying voters. I went back through the Administrative Code that defines the “Substantially Similar” process. What I discovered was that our first day of work was not done to spec. We were collectively letting voters go through, un-initialed, if the difference was a middle initial versus a middle name when comparing their ID to the voter roll. In several cases, we were also letting through voters who had a “Maiden vs Middle Name” discrepancy.

I know that, in the case of Bayland Park, we were using secondary information on the ID like address or date of birth to confirm that the information did match. So while there was no risk of voter fraud that resulted, we still didn’t follow the letter of the law for one day. We still ended up with 6% of voters initialling. That alone was light years more than several other locations. A quick viewing of results from the High-End Locations turns up a number of other locations that suddenly woke up to what the law spelled out – Baytown Community Center spent the first three days without having a single voter initialling and Hiram Clarke MSC had all of two voters initial for the first three days. Several locations in the Mid-Range Locations woke up much later and ended up administering the law at a more adequate level in the second week of Early Voting.

Locations in each Cluster:

High-End Locations
126C – Champion Forest Baptist Church
126P – Prairie View A&M University-Northwest
128P – Harris County Courthouse Annex #25
130T – Tomball Public Works Building
131 – Hiram Clarke Multi-Service Center
134M – Metropolitan Multi-Service Center
137B – Bayland Park Community Center
138B – Bear Creek Park Community Center
141H – Octavia Fields Branch Library
144 – Baytown Community Center
149G – Glen Cheek Education Building

Mid-Range Locations
127K – Kingwood Branch Library
128C – Crosby ISD Administration Building
129 – Freeman Branch Library
130C – Cypress Top Park
137T – Tracy Gee Community Center
140 – Hardy Senior Center
141C – Northeast Multi-Service Center
142W – North Channel Branch Library
147 – Palm Center
148 – Holy Name Church
149A – Henington-Alief Regional Library
150 – Champion Life Centre

Low-End Locations
Main – Harris County Administration Building
127A – Northeast Houston Baptist Church
127B – Baldwin Boettcher Branch Library
132 – Franz Road Storefront
133 – Nottingham Park
134H – Harris County Public Health Environmental Services
135 – Jersey Village City Hall
138S – Trini Mendenhall Sosa Community Center
139A – Acres Home Multi-Service Center
139V – Lone Star College Victory Center
142K – Kashmere Multi-Service Center
143G – Galena Park Library
143R – Ripley House
145C – HCC Southeast College
145P – IBEW Hall #66
146F – Fiesta Mart
146S – Sunnyside Multi-Service Center

Voter ID: A 2013 Postmortem

January 29, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

The most common refrain from defenders of Texas’ Voter ID law after the first test of an election has been that there were few, if any problems. The proof? Only a minor number of voters turned away due to not having an ID and a manageable number of provisional ballots cast because of same. As far as the argument goes: there was no problem, so the law works and it poses no impediment to voters. To wit:

» Chron: Early vote sets record in county: Clerk says voter ID law is not causing problems

“We don’t have a hint of that,” Stanart said of difficulties reported elsewhere in the state.

When problems arise, he said poll workers are trained to do on-site verification and direct voters to check the box that functions as an affidavit. About 40 percent of registered Harris County voters have mismatched addresses that could require additional verification, Stanart said.

“It only takes a few seconds extra,” he said.

Case closed, right? Unfortunately for the law’s defenders, it takes even fewer seconds when there’s no affidavit to sign. And that’s what happened at a significant number of Early Voting locations in Harris County.

The fundamental flaw in the “no big deal” argument is the logic that only the most dire outcome (a voter being turned away) or the most stringent cure (a provisional ballot) represents the entirety of the law’s negative impact. It’s somewhat similar to evaluating the crime rate based on the number of state executions carried out in Huntsville. Among the secondary problems are things like lengthening lines at polling places or dissuading voters from registering to vote if they feel a photo ID is all that is needed. There are other concerns, as well. But we likely won’t get a full taste of that until November 2016.

An early indicator of the impact of the law seems to have gotten little coverage during the last election. The Dallas Morning News stumbled upon it during the Early Voting period – a quote from Dallas County Clerk Toni Pippins-Poole that 1 in 7 voters reviewed had signed a similar name affidavit under the new law. 14% of voters. Remember that number. I’ll revisit it later in the week.

What makes the affidavit process important to note is that voter registrars and county clerks around the state were given lists and counts of the percentage of their voter roll that had name mismatches. Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart has been quoted saying that Harris County’s number was roughly 40%. Given that the first election under the new law would be conducted under a low-turnout, high-propensity-voter universe in an odd-numbered-year election, it would stand to reason that a realistic expectation for what share of voters would need to sign an affidavit would be something less than that 40%.

Likewise, there were issues of training to consider. The 2013 elections were conducted after counties had already established their budgets for voting personnel training, outreach and communications. Anecdotally, I can offer a few datapoints from my own experience working as an Election Clerk during Early Voting in Harris County. For one, I did not initial an affidavit for either the November election or the December runoff despite my first name being different on my ID and the voter roll. Secondly, I know firsthand that there were voters we missed getting a signature from despite the fact that they fell into a “substantially similar” situation. In short, even if you did all the training and the workers knew the law, there’s no guarantee that you fire on 100% efficiency. And just as well since there is neither a penalty for election workers who fail to get an initialed affidavit, nor a prohibition from voting for a voter who neglects, forgets, refuses, or isn’t told to initial.

So what percentage of voters ended up signing an affidavit? … and what does it suggest about how the law was administered?

To get that answer, I obtained records from the Harris County Clerk and commenced tabulating the data. I’ll be spelling out some of these results in the days ahead. For now, here’s the big-ticket takeaway: voters in Harris County were qualified to vote by election workers in extremely different ways depending on the location that the voter voted at. In several locations, the law was followed in a manner as close to thorough as might be humanly possible. In others, it didn’t appear that election workers had gotten the figurative memo about the new law. In a plurality of Early Vote locations, the results were mixed.

For introductory purposes, a small sketch of the data: Trini Mendenhall Sosa Community Center in Spring Branch had signed affidavits from 0.43% (as in less than 1%) of its voters. Meanwhile, neighboring West Gray Multi-Service Center saw 15.1% of its voters sign affidavits. In other words: if you wanted to experience “no problem” with the law, then Sosa was the place for you to go vote. If you wish to subject yourself to more scrutiny by election workers, then head to West Gray. Discrepancies like this were rampant in Harris County. And I’m willing to guess that it’s not the way that architects of the law intended it to be administered.

What I find interesting about these results is that, for all intents and purposes, nobody can say for certain that the new law was followed in any kind of meaningful way. It’s that conclusion that makes it impossible to say “there was no problem” with the law since the law effectively wasn’t administered. I have little doubt that election workers knew to ask for a photo ID and that there may, indeed, be only the most minor of problems exhibited with this task during a low-turnout election. But if election workers weren’t checking the names on the ID against the names on the voting rolls, then there should be no assurance that they were doing anything meaningful with those IDs.

Through the remainder of this week, I’ll be rolling out some of the findings, and raw data to demonstrate how this played out in Harris County. Ultimately, I think there are findings that are likely to concern both advocates of the law as well as opponents. And while I’m not a believer in the necessity of the law, I think there are several things to review before the law goes full scale in a Presidential year.

Below the fold, I’ve posted the administrative rule by which the similar name affidavit process kicks in. Feel free to read it in all the legalese glory it contains (or skim through to subsection (d) for the guts of the rule). The nickel version is that if there is any single thing different in comparing names, then a voter is to initial the affidavit. Having spoken to several election workers who worked both Early Voting and Election Day, I assure you that even that brief understanding hasn’t taken hold. The data definitely seems to back that conclusion up.

Texas Administrative Code
Title 1, Part 4, Chapter 81, Subchapter E: Election Day Procedures

(a) When a voter offers to vote at a polling place using a form of identification described by §63.0101 of the Texas Election Code (“presented ID document”) and the voter’s name on the presented ID document does not match exactly the voter’s name as it appears on the official list of registered voters, the voter’s name on the presented ID document must be “substantially similar” to the voter’s name as it appears on the official list of registered voters.

(b) In determining whether a voter’s name on the presented ID document is substantially similar to the voter’s name as it appears on the official list of registered voters, the reviewing early voting clerk, deputy early voting clerk, election judge or election clerk (collectively included in the term “election worker”) shall refer to the standards in subsection (c) of this section.

(c) A voter’s name on the presented ID document is considered substantially similar to the name on the official list of registered voters and a voter’s name on the official list of registered voters is considered substantially similar to the name on the presented ID document if one or more of the circumstances in paragraphs (1) – (4) of this subsection are present. In determining whether one or more of those circumstances are present, election workers should consider whether information on the presented ID document matches elements of the voter’s information on the official list of registered voters such as the voter’s residence address or date of birth, which may be strong indicators that the name on the presented ID document is substantially similar to the name on the official list of registered voters and vice versa if:

     (1) The name on the presented ID document is slightly different from one or more of the name fields on the official list of registered voters or one or more of the name fields on the official list of registered voters is slightly different from the name on the presented ID document;

     (2) The name on the presented ID document or on the official list of registered voters is a customary variation of the formal name such as, for illustrative purposes only, Bill for William, or Beto for Alberto, that is on the document or list that must match, as the case may be;

     (3) The voter’s name on the presented ID document contains an initial, a middle name, or a former name that is not on the official list of registered voters or the official list of registered voters contains an initial, a middle name, or a former name that is not on the presented ID document; or

     (4) A first name, middle name, former name, or initial of the voter’s name that occupies a different field on the presented ID document than a first name, middle name, former name, or initial of the voter’s name on the official list of registered voters.

(d) If the reviewing election worker makes a determination that the voter’s name on the presented ID document and the official list of registered voters are substantially similar, the voter shall be accepted for voting if the voter submits the “Similar Name Affidavit” prescribed by the Secretary of State stating that the voter offering the presented ID document is the same person on the official list of registered voters.

(e) After the determination is complete, the presented ID document must be returned to the voter immediately.

(f) The completed Similar Name Affidavit shall be placed in Envelope No. 4 (or other designated container) to be delivered to the county voter registrar to address any necessary changes to the official list of registered voters in accordance with the correction process prescribed in §15.021 of the Texas Election Code.

(g) If the reviewing election worker makes a determination that the voter’s names on the presented ID document and the official list of registered voters are not substantially similar, the voter shall be offered a provisional ballot. The voter shall be processed as a provisional voter in accordance with the provisional voter process established under Texas law, at the time of voting.

(h) If the voter casts a provisional ballot due to a determination by the election worker that the name on the presented ID document was not substantially similar to the name on the official list of registered voters, the voter is eligible to submit a form of identification described by §63.0101 of the Texas Election Code, including the presented ID document that the voter presented at the polling place, in person to the voter registrar’s office within six days of election day pursuant to Texas law. The voter shall be informed of this procedure at the time the voter casts his or her provisional ballot.

(i) In determining whether an ID document presented to the voter registrar under subsection (h) of this section is substantially similar to the voter’s name on the official list of registered voters, the voter registrar shall utilize the processes outlined in subsections (c) and (d) of this section.

The Replacements

January 7, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

» Texas Tribune: Push Back Against “Do-Nothing” Crowd (State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock)

Crackups are always fun to watch when they’re in the other party …

It appears that Texas Right to Life’s agenda is clearly about more than “life” issues. It is about making a lot of noise to solicit membership and funds. It is about a handful of people controlling votes in the Texas Legislature by seeing who can shout “conservative” the loudest. The easiest way to do that is to form alliances with the self-appointed “conservatives” to share contact bases and propaganda machinery.

It’s an interesting read by an incumbent Republican State Rep. And the issue has more to do with Michael Quinn Sullivan than it does any substantive beliefs on abortion policy.

For now, there’s room to speculate on how different Texas government can still be from a center-left vantage point. As bad as the 2002 elections proved to be and as bad as Tom Craddick was as speaker, there were still some moderating elements at work. David Dewhurst was known as the one Republican that Dem-leaning lobbyists could talk to. Several Republican State Senators were just as protective of some major constituencies as Democrats are. And for all of Rick Perry’s numerous failings as a governor, his politics were still somewhat reminiscent of the good-ol-boy Democrats that he was in the 1980s.

Many of the ABC Republicans that lined up behind Joe Straus beginning in 2009 have been retiring or losing primaries ever so gradually each election cycle. While Straus has been effective at cultivating relationships with his GOP caucus, I don’t think that he has to lose his speakership for a tide to turn for the worse in the House.

Case in point – Fort Worth State Rep. Charlie Geren has signaled that 2014 will be his last election. Just as there used to be a number of GOP-leaning seats held by long-time Dem incumbents, I think it’s safe to say that there are a number of current GOP seats held by “pre-Tea” GOP members that are likely to be replaced by more strident conservatives. They won’t have to elect a new speaker to be effective – they’ll just have to have the votes. So I think it’s safe to say that it can, indeed, get worse.

I like Jimmie Don and he was definitely a reassuring name to hear as Public Education chair this past session. Assuming his purpl-ish district keeps sending Republicans to the Lege, there’s just nothing to suggest that the next one is going to be cut from the same cloth. And there are enough GOP members like Jimmie Don in the same situation. They won’t all lose a primary in 2014. But they’re also not going to be in office for decades at a time. It’s the replacements who should be of more concern.

The Six-Year Itch for Term Limit Reform

January 6, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

» Chron: As council seats churn, calls for term-limit reform

I’m a bit behind Kuff on this, but I think there are at least a few points worth making about it that don’t seem to come up by the time this idea gets studied by “very serious people.”

The mayor’s tenure in local government – on city council, as city controller and as mayor – has been under the current term limits regime approved by a voter referendum in 1991, but Parker said she has come to fully appreciate its weaknesses as a chief executive.

“San Antonio and Houston are the two megacities in America that have two-year terms, and it puts us at a disadvantage vis-à-vis our fellow mayors and those cities in terms of competing for grants, in terms of working through the organizations that support cities,” Parker said. “It’s expensive for the city and for candidates, and it provides for distractions.”

In 2010, a commission appointed by former Mayor Bill White proposed asking voters for two four-year terms. It failed in a 7-7 full council vote. In 2012, a council committee voted 9-1 not to forward a proposal for three four-year terms to the full council amid concerns it would fail on a crowded ballot.

I tend to think that the “every two year complaint” is fairly weak. There might be some kind of argument on that for a Mayor and maybe even Controller. But I don’t see why a two-year term for city council member is any more debilitating than it is for a member of Congress, State Representatives, half of the State Senate (at least at the start of the decade), and any unexpired state administrative office.

A few ideas that I wish were on the table are the following:

» Fix the JoJo exclusion. The statute, as written, is amazingly short and simple:

Section 6a. – Limitation of terms.
No person, who has already served two full terms, shall be eligible to file for that same office.

The statute is also amazingly unequal in how it applies a qualification for office. So much so, that I’m curious if this inequality provides an opening for a legal challenge. Basically, the law says that some folks get to serve three full terms and some only get to serve two full terms. If a candidate loses re-election to their second term (ala Brenda Stardig and Helena Brown), you have an entirely different qualification for office than someone who lost re-election to their third term (ala Jolanda Jones and Al Hoang).

There haven’t been many parties aggrieved by this statute, so it seems to me that there might be improved odds of that happening now that we have two such individuals. I would think that there might be ground to make this application more equal by substituting equally simple language that limits any officeholder to no more than three full terms … period.

That may not address any deeper concerns about the Clymer Wright-era limitations. But it does offer an incremental cleanup. And if it were to go through a charter amendment vote, it might be an easy enough one that it opens the door for public perception to see that elected officials aren’t trying to change the rules they have to abide by in the middle of the game. If you’re not sure about the public appetite for altering term limits, this modification would be a good test run.

» Why not three? – Many Texas towns have three year terms. Why is there such an immediate impetus for four-year terms when there is already a more common model already being utilized throughout Texas? You could leave the term-limit language as-is or make the tweak above. Doing so would create a nine-year window of service for people.

More importantly, it would also open Houston City Council to the whims of bigger electorates. If you really wanted to see a different City Council, the easiest place to start has always been to hold the election on even-numbered years. District A would be quite a bit more Dem-friendly, as would District F. My own District J, as it turns out, is as close to 50-50 in terms of partisanship among city year voters. That tilt would be eviscerated with an even-year electorate and the district would be reliably Dem-leaning. The rotating cycle of seats would lead to a seat being up for a vote in two odd-numbered election years for each six-year cycle. So there is some moderation to those swings that might be appealing.

It would seem practical, under this scenario, to stagger the elections so that each individual year would see one-third of city seats up for a votes. I’m not sure who that may appeal to or be unappealing to, frankly. One positive that I can see from this is that it might lead to an increase in competition for seats. If an elected thought to run for Mayor one year after being elected to a council seat, they could. In short, there would no longer be an incentive to sit out six years when terms are the same – as they currently are for the office of Mayor and Controller.

» Lacking that … of course, there’s always the “blow it all up” approach and do away with term limits. I would hope that the office of Mayor, and possibly Controller, could still be term-limited. I think there could even be an argument for limiting the terms of At Large seats while leaving district seats unlimited. That could theoretically provide a bit more power to district council members and your mileage may vary as to your preference for seeing that.

» Lastly … while we’re looking at term limits, why not look at the strong-mayor form of government?

Book Review: “The New Democrats and the Return to Power”

January 5, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

Leading up to the summer of 1989, I had a decision to make: I could stick with a major in Political Science and end up teaching future generations how to major in Political Science; I could stick with a major in Political Science and go into a profession destined to make nobody rich – running campaigns; or I could find another major. I forget if it was before during or after that summer that I decided to switch majors (ultimately, Marketing). But I knew there were a few things left to get out of my PoliSci experience before I totally – and ultimately, temporarily – cleansed it from my system. One of them involved writing a letter to the Democratic Leadership Council inquiring about summer internships. I never heard back from the DLC and that turned out to be a great thing.

My letter did make it into the hands of the folks who were starting up the DLC-affiliated think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute. And that was where I spent my final summer of the 80s – comparing notes with Charlie Moskos on the idea of a national volunteer service program; crunching election numbers for Elaine Kamarck and Bill Galston; tackling minor research items for Robert Shapiro; and trying to figure out if a meeting with PPI leadership and Democratic governors was worth interrupting when the wife of said PPI leadership called (it was and we all guessed wrong). There were a lot of other folks that I had the pleasure of working with. Among them – Joel Berg, who made the call to bring me to DC, is leading a great group in NYC fighting hunger. And Bert Brandenburg is leading another organization advocating electoral reform for state judiciaries. The woman technically in charge of us interns was a former Gillis Long staffer. That would be the same office from whence Al From started his path to the DLC. And that’s a key point of connection to where the DLC originated and the intellectual origins behind it.

The origins and beginnings of the DLC are told in a bit more detail in Kenneth Baer’s “Reinventing the Donkey,” which was published in 2000. What the former DLC CEO covers in his more recent telling of history is a first-hand account. In it, there are many tales of memos written and delivered – several involving Bill Clinton as the recipient. The broad-brush version of DLC origins that From covers is a reasonably well told history. But then Bill Clinton gets elected President and those moments get fairly short in the amount of detail this book covers.

While the elevator pitch narrative of Bill Clinton and the DLC is that they were connected in every way, shape, and form, the actual events are a bit more complex. It’s worth pointing out that neither Al From nor the PPI President Will Marshall would go on to work in the Clinton White House. From would serve as domestic policy advisor for the transition and many DLC/PPI staff would make the move to the White House. As From tells it, he made his intentions known that he preferred to serve as an advocate from the outside rather than go back to working in the White House (as he had during the Carter administration). Will Marshall’s name was occasionally floated for work within the CIA. Former Gore speechwriter and DLC magazine editor Bruce Reed was the most notable, high-ranking DLC type carrying the banner in the White House. Whether you choose to believe that a more DLC-centric White House would have brought either or both leaders is open to interpretation.

The most notable “complex moment” of the relationship to the White House comes when DLC funders Michael Steinhardt and Barry Diller declared a public interest in a third-party candidate who would espouse the ideas being advocated for by the DLC. That came after the frustration of losing Congressional majorities in 1994. From gives a decent insider account of Clinton’s reaction and the ephemeral nature of the third-party centrist boomlet.

It may not be From’s story to tell, but there were also momentary bouts of frustration with the DLC/PPI expressed from within the administration, also. There isn’t anything from From to suggest that it happened, so that remains for a more aggressive Lexis/Nexis searcher to unearth those similarly ephemeral moments.

What From does suggest in the aggregate is the ongoing need to nudge, tug, and sometimes scold the Clinton administration back toward New Democrat principles. At the risk of getting one post-Clinton parable wrong, I’ll rely on faded memory for a Joe Lieberman anecdote. I want to say it was during his 2004 campaign for President given how I remember it (but I could be wrong). But his comment was along the lines of how difficult it would be to build (and more importantly, staff) a government around a set of shared uber-moderate principles by virtue of there just being “a lot of them” … with “them” being more liberal factions under the big tent.

That definitely tracks with the Clinton experience. From notes several of the challenges created by Attorney General nominees intended to complete diversity goals to controversial civil rights nominees … and yet, no mention of Jocelyn Elders. All of this seems to beg for a more exhaustive introspection on From’s part about why he didn’t see the need to serve more of a mechanical functionality of building a government that reflected the DLC mission rather than get the one person at the top elected to office.

To be fair, I think there’s something to be said for keeping the figurative “church of centrism” pure and using that position to influence the administration. But it seems apparent that the more challenging task was staffing an administration and maintaining the proverbial rudder from within. But there isn’t a great deal of examination on “lessons learned” in From’s book. Instead, we get a somewhat straight telling of events that happened. More play-by-play than color commentary.

And memos.

What struck me most from the read was that Clinton’s was definitely the last Presidency before the internet. Pundit prognostications mattered. Newspaper columnists were important. Memos needed to be drafted … and mailed! There is no instant communication outside of verbal communication. There are vagaries and pronouncements accepted as gospel because the age of the internet had not fully been realized yet. There are no blogs, no fisking, no calling of bull$#!%. If you wanted to do anything like that, you’d have to pitch a story to a competing newspaper columnist or McLaughlin Group carnival barker. Instead, if Al From fires off a memo to the President saying what normal, average, ordinary people believed … you either believed it or you didn’t.

That underscores at least some of the final years in the DLC history. There is no mention of the IRS challenges to the DLC’s tax-exempt status. There is no mention of how the anti-war and/or anti-Bush Democrats led to a coalescing of more liberal factions. A search for John Kerry comes up blank despite Bruce Reed ghost-writing a 2004 campaign book selling Kerry as a hero of moderation – complete with an ode to NASCAR dads. Those moments definitely get more into the grittier reality of working within the big tent.

A personal highlight, though, comes from Al From’s earlier years. Working in Sargent Shriver’s Office of Economic Opportunity, From notes Shriver’s distrust of bureaucracy, with Shriver telling From to go out in the field to report success or failure on the front lines of the War on Poverty. With that, From gets sent from county to county to assess the work being done.

At OEO, I learned an important lesson: Everyone, no matter how poor of disenfranchised, wanted a piece of the American dream. Everyone wanted his or her children to have a better life than he or she did. And I learned that if you wanted to help the poor, the most effective strategy with the broadest reach was to empower them, to give them a chance to get ahead by helping themselves.

I also learned that government must plat an important role. Government can be an agent of powerful and positive change when it offers citizens opportunity, but citizens need to do their part and take full advantage of that opportunity. Simply put, if people can help themselves, government should empower them to do so, not keep them on the dole forever.

Among the experiences from his time at OEO, it turns out that Al traveled through an area where I spent a few childhood years: Sunflower County, Mississippi.

The DLC and PPI – so far as I’ve been aware of – were always a hallway apart from each other. During my time at PPI, we interns would sometimes be the beneficiaries of Al From’s collection of Cubs stories. All of these were interrupted with a DLC staffer running over to tell Al that “Governor Babbitt”, “Senator Nunn”, “Senator Robb”, or some other person far more important than us was on the phone. We knew the drill – end of story time and back to work we all went. Again – pre-internet days. Had email existed, we might know the other half of what the Cubs accomplished during From’s Chicago days. But what I never knew was that there was a bit of shared geography that I know I would have nagged Al to finish before I wrapped up my summer in DC.

Typically, when I pick up a book that I’m overly familiar with before reading, I have a tendency to read it in one sitting. I expected that to happen with this one. Instead, I found the less-familiar parts of this book more interesting and made a stopping point with that. From’s White House years, the Gillis Long years, and definitely the OEO years were a good insight into the person usually being quoted as critical of more liberal Democrats. They show a picture that’s richer than internet-age liberals would like to make him out to be. That might not be a picture that post-Obama Democrats care much about. The DLC is essentially a folded shop these days (PPI lives on, but in a less active role). The national Democratic Party currently finds itself at an odd point where acceptance of many Clinton principles rest comfortably beside further-left principles and even Clinton himself finds time to evolve while Obama triangulates.

There isn’t really a clean answer to whether DLC/Clinton principles “won” in a grander, more historical sense or that they are now completely out of favor – “defeated”, if you will. But From’s book offers a simple reminder that they did, at least, chalk up some wins that matter to this day.

Houston City Council: 1/2/14

January 2, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

I don’t know how much monitoring I’ll have time for on a lot of local governments that I’d like to see in action this year. But in the spirit of beginning new year resolutions regardless of whether I can finish out the year with it, today is an easy day to cover City Hall.

Everyone was sworn in earlier at a big inauguration celebration where many ties and tuxes were worn. I’m a little more interested in what happens once they get to the shoehorn. So here’s the live-blogging:

While we wait for the obligatory late start, here’s the whopping agenda for the day …

11:00 A. M. – ROLL CALL

1. CONFIRM appointment of Council Member Edward Gonzalez as Mayor Pro Tem
2. RECEIVE nominations for appointment of Vice Mayor Pro Tem
    a. CONFIRM appointment of Vice Mayor Pro Tem
3. RECOMMENDATION from the Director Administration & Regulatory Affairs for purchase and approval of Individual Fidelity Bond Form for ANNISE D. PARKER, MAYOR in the sum of $50,000.00 and RONALD C. GREEN, CITY CONTROLLER in the sum of $50,000.00 as required by the City Charter and the Code of Ordinances – $648.00 Total Premium – Property and Casualty Fund

I’m not privy to any rumors, but I’d expect a no-surprise move of C.O. Bradford to be re-named VMPT.

11:15am … all systems go.

Ed Gonzalez gets a unanimous approval as MPT.

Jerry Davis gets nominated as VMPT by now-former VPMT C.O. Bradford (and ultimately approved unanimously).

The council members now get their moment to speechify …

Ronald Green … “This is my last term as Controller, but I look forward to serving with you for many years to come.” Make of that what you will.

Dwight Boykins … first of the newbies on the docket. For a guy who starts off saying he was going to thank just one person, there sure were a lot of followups.

Richard Nguyen … nice shout-out to Karen Loper among his thank-yous. Interestingly, he names Alvin Byrd as his Chief of Staff (assuming I heard that correctly).

Robert Gallegos … introduces his staff. Notably, his CoS is Leah Olive-Nishioka (formerly with Laster’s office) and Daniel Santamaria moves over after being on Al Hoang’s staff previously.

Mike Laster … another shout-out for Karen Loper on the campaign side.

David Robinson … two notable shout-outs: one to the recently departed Jack Blanton. Another to the mayor and her partner, Kathy Hubbard. The mayor follows with a very coy “Stay tuned.”

The One True Felix … Kudos to Mayor Parker for leading off the Santa comparisons.

And after a zillion thanks, council adjourns at 12:27pm. Next week, we get an ordinance that relaxes alcohol sales near schools for big grocery stores, which is part of the “food desert” repairs that CM Costello and others have been working on. I suspect the conversation might be more substantive then.

First Inventions (Year Four)

Splitting time in Austin away from my gear for most of the first five months didn’t do wonders for maintaining much of a practice habit this past year. And while I’d hoped to do a few cover tunes, that ended up being an even-more-severely neglected aspect during my practice time. But there were a few notable accomplishments among the tidbits below. At the start of the year, I still had a fairly new Compressor/Sustain pedal that I’m not sure how I ever lived without before. And somewhere in the course of a year, I picked up an inexpensive BC Rich Mockingbird with the goal of using it to test some new and different pickups (which I have yet to try). I’ve already got my eye on a new toy for this coming year and there’s no legislative session to take me away from my toys for much of this year. So hope springs eternal.

Here’s a bit of the work that I’ve hit the big red record button for this past year. With a little luck, maybe you’ll find something that appeals to you (or not).

This would probably be the best noodling of the year I think I’d want to work on if I ever get around to taking some ideas into a studio.

Just a nice eight-note, low-string melody here with a little bit of improvised elaboration once it gets going. Most of the ideas I develop for melodies come about from developing a familiarity with the fretboard and trying some ideas based on visual patterns, mathematical patterns, or some other not-so-artsy means. This one, I’m moderately proud to say, came from hearing and took a couple of practice sessions before I felt I had all the right parts in place for it to sound nice.

This is an extended re-tread of a drill that I like to play to go over modes. The main, repeating lick that you hear in this is just me going up the modes until I do a full octave higher than I started. A great way to learn where notes are on the fretboard, easy to transpose to different keys, and just enough melody to keep it interesting. Whenever I initially stumbled onto the lick and recorded something with it, I didn’t do the full octave. What motivated me to record this time around was that I had some trial DAW software that I wanted to experiment. I think there may be some faint harmony lines in this one, but I’m not sure. I do recall testing the software to see if it made life any easier for recording harmony lines. In any event, I never bought the full software.

The title suggests that I’m ripping off something from a Neil Zaza guitar lesson I purchased. And from the sound of it, I’m really leaning on the new Compressor/Sustain pedal. There’s also a very unintentional nod to Jeff Beck’s “Freeway Jam” in this, too. Not bad for a slow-moving ditty.

I think I should have called this one “Aldo Nova Ripoff.” But then all the cool kids at Guitar Center would look at me and say “What’s an Aldo Nova?”

Another “What the heck” moment with some of the more old-school rhythm patterns built into my drum machine. Just working with a standard arpeggio drill for me and trying to make it work with a Benny Goodman style backing. I’ve done worst things.

Paul Gilbert has closed shows with “Baba O’Reilly” when he was in Racer X and Mr. Big. The Mr. Big version was the coolest thing in the world: Billy Sheehan playing the guitar parts on bass, and Gilbert playing the keyboard parts on guitar. There’s only three notes to it (all part of a B power chord). But the picking is a beast … at least for me. This was a bit slower than I wished I could play it at the time, but it came out sounding fairly decent. Plus, I decided to break up the monotony of the arpeggios by hitting those big Pete Townshend chords myself.

I didn’t do a great deal of cover tunes this past year and I’ll have to atone for that. This particular bit of a cover came about after listening to a lot of Megadeth, waking up one morning, and wondering how hard it would be to play the rhythm to “Peace Sells.” Kinda easy it turns out.

Each of these has a bit of a Steve Vai-style flair to them … at least in my mind. What surprises me about that is that, while I’m a big fan of Vai’s, I rarely find myself wanting to sound like him because it’s a very different sound than what comes naturally to me. But considering how much of his music I’ve listened to over the years, it shouldn’t be too big of a shock that something would ooze out like these two takes. I’m pretty sure that both benefited from the addition of a Compressor/Sustain pedal, also.

I did not do enough work with harmony guitar parts and this was an effort to do something about it. If the lick sounds familiar, it’s the same one played at the end of the Slow Jam 2 tune above.

There were a few feeble efforts to play some two-tapping ideas cleanly. Some better than others …


And a new phone with a decent camera graduated some practice time to video archival. A more recent tripod allowed me to switch from the not-so-great front-facing camera to the much-better, 13MP back-facing camera in the last video here.

In the Interim

December 30, 2013 Politics-2013 No Comments

Among the lesser-known activities by the so-called part-time legislature is the study of interim charges between the end of the last session and the beginning of the next one. Basically, these tend to boil down to one or two days of hearing, often with each of a committee’s topics being given an obligatory couple of hours and multiple topics being covered in a day. It doesn’t seem like much, but it tends to be a good indicator of bills deemed “important” in January 2015.

Normally, both the House and Senate would have most of their interim charges announced. To date, the House has done jack. The Senate, meanwhile, has been rolling theirs out prior to Christmas. You can get them all in one reading here if you’re so inclined.

There’s nothing education-related yet, so I’m still waiting for the meatier parts of my viewing and reviewing to be announced. But one somewhat interesting charge will be picked up by the State Affairs committee:

Study the online legislative resources available to the public from Texas Senate Committee websites and compare resources to those provided by other state legislative committees in Texas and other states. Determine how Texas Senate websites can be improved to provide a more interactive and transparent government.

This pretty much warms my heart. For starters, the Senate website is a throwback to the 90s. It’s well past due for a facelift. Beyond the aesthetics, here’s my short list of things that bug me most about it …

» I’ve been reviewing the House Appropriations hearings from last session. Mostly, because that part of session was a blur for me. I’m finding it extremely helpful that the House committee has links to handouts that the committee was working from. That makes it a great deal easier to follow any number of fascinating Legislative Budget Board presentations on the budget, as well as see what different agencies are showing the committee as they testify. No such luck on the senate side – you’re pretty much left to just watch the video and follow along. In fairness, this appears to be a new feature for the House since I’m not finding links to the handouts in previous sessions.

» This goes beyond the Senate website, but I hope someone in the hearing brings up the state’s reliance on Real Media and Real Player. It’s not difficult to understand that uprooting Real from Austin might post a challenge. All State agencies that broadcast and archive video seem to have a similar setup. I would assume there to be a cost associated with making any change so that we operate on a flash-based setup similar to YouTube or Vimeo. Further complicating things is that many states don’t do any kind of live or archive video of proceedings. As scary as it is to think that a Real Media-based solution is state-of-the-art … it kinda is. Still, I think it bears emphasizing that flash-based video is going to be far more user-friendly than what is presently in place. And on a side note, I find it particularly insightful that while the capital uses Real Media for their website, they do not outfit state computers with Real Player. Instead, we’re provided with a freeware program – Media Player Classic. That has to be a statement of some kind – and not a good one – when the government loves Real Media so much that they refuse to support the program designed to play it.

» And on a far more technical note, let’s talk about the archival of video. If you go to either the House or Senate video archive, after a variety of clicks, you get to click a file that seemingly plays the video you want to watch. What really happens is that you download a RAM file that is all of 65 bytes in filesize. If you open that file up in a text editor, you can see that all this file contains is one line that points to the RM file, which is the full video that streams through your player. It’s a technical point, to be sure. But the problem is that the freeware program provided to staff typically gags on buffering video when you try to fast forward through a 12 hour hearing. It especially gags if you fast forward more than once.

Now, there’s an easy enough workaround if you’re like me and ignore the pre-loaded software given to you. In my case, I downloaded Real Player (it goes against most of what I believe in, but I wasn’t the one who decided we were going to play with Real Media in the first place). That alleviated the buffer gag problem. But when you want to download or clip a portion of the video … no dice. The reason is because you’re still operating off of a stream of the file rather than working with the full RM file itself.

After the session, I contacted the House AV folks to see what options I had for solving this problem. I asked if it was possible for them to provide me with CDs that included the full RAM files for floor proceedings. That’s problematic since the request would essentially be a form of an open records request that would need to be approved by all 150 members of the House. Or, I can download software that rips a streaming RM file … which is exactly what I did. All in all, just another case where House and Senate rules don’t quite match up to the times we live in.

» Another bug with the video is that the archive compression quality is pure crap. We did have an instance or two where I requested a DVD of my boss on the floor and received perfectly fine video where you could make out that my boss was indeed my boss. But if you view the archive video online, you will get a highly compressed product where you’re left to match voices due to everyone being unrecognizable.

» I’ve only checked on less than a handful or two of other state legislature websites. Many don’t keep an archive. Some don’t even show live feeds. A few keep an audio archive. A few also use Real Media. I don’t know that I’ve seen a penultimate example yet. The best fit I can think of when it comes to how they manage video is C-SPAN’s video library. Ideally, this could allow for different download options. I’d go so far as to recommend how one of my favorite churches offers downloads in different formats. Either way would be a huge step forward in getting the website matched better to the times we live in and the technology we actually use.

As for the basic layout, organization, and structure, I see those are far easier fixes. Here’s hoping they don’t pick some sweetheart vendor deal to make less-than-optimal upgrades, though.

Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate

December 28, 2013 Politics-2013 No Comments

A passage that I couldn’t resist sharing after stumbling upon it …

The standards shall ensure that the summary is presented in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner and utilizes terminology understandable by the average plan enrollee.


I would strongly suggest that something similar could be found in a variety of bills. The requirement is essentially a “common language” or “no legalese” clause. It just smacks of some obvious irony that a federal version of this mandate would include so many multi-syllable words – ultimately disqualifying itself for inclusion in the very document being developed.

It’s moments like this that I wish I had a hotline to Washington Monthly’s Charles Peters.

2008-12 Citizen Voting Age Population Update

December 24, 2013 Census Stuff No Comments

I’m gradually wading back into the annual update of Census numbers via the American Community Survey that just came out. For the sake of maintaining the bookmark I’m keeping on Harris County Population trends, here are the latest 5-year estimates covering 2008-2012 shown in contest of previous ACS releases:

         Tot. Pop. '10 (%)    Tot. Pop. '11 (%)    Tot. Pop. '12 (%) 
TOTAL      4,092,459           4,025,409            4,101,752
Anglo      1,349,646 (33.0%)   1,353,868 (33.6%)    1,354,869 (33.0%)
Hispanic   1,671,540 (40.8%)   1,621,065 (40.3%)    1,671,262 (40.7%)
Afr.-Am.     754,258 (18.4%)     747,398 (18.6%)      775,085 (18.9%)
Asian        249,853  (6.1%)     246,924  (6.1%)      257,467  (6.3%)
Other         67,162  (1.6%)      56,154  (1.4%)       43,069  (1.1%)

         18+ Pop. '10 (%)     18+ Pop. '11 (%)     18+ Pop. '12 (%) 
TOTAL       2,944,624          2,893,717            2,956,297
Anglo       1,085,630 (36.9%)  1,085,427 (37.5%)    1,090,375 (36.9%)
Hispanic    1,082,570 (36.7%)  1,049,076 (36.3%)    1,084,712 (36.7%)
Afr.-Am.      541,108 (18.4%)    540,203 (18.7%)      553,966 (18.7%)
Asian         194,956  (6.6%)    193,555  (6.7%)      200,401  (6.8%)
Other          40,360  (1.4%)     25,456  (0.9%)       26,843  (0.9%)

              CVAP-09 (%)         CVAP-10 (%)         CVAP-11 (%)         CVAP-12 (%) 
TOTAL       2,195,535           2,230,550           2,276,903           2,328,000
Anglo       1,090,624 (49.7%)   1,051,265 (47.1%)   1,048,230 (46.0%)   1,051,533 (45.2%)
Hispanic      494,695 (22.5%)     530,490 (23.8%)     560,416 (24.6%)     590,282 (25.4%)
Afr.-Am.      481,492 (21.9%)     506,150 (22.7%)     519,122 (22.8%)     531,518 (22.8%)
Asian         106,547  (4.9%)     120,660  (5.4%)     125,733  (5.5%)     130,291  (5.6%)
Other          22,177  (1.0%)      21,985  (1.0%)      23,402  (1.0%)      24,376  (1.0%)

A lot of the obvious trends are still in motion – growing Hispanic and declining Anglo population shares key among them. But here are a few other tidbits that jump out to me:

» If you look at the Under-18 data (or simply subtract VAP from Total Pop), I come up with a group that is majority Hispanic (51.2%), with Anglo (23.1%) and Afr-Am (19.3%) populations jostling for 2nd place. Even better, 91% of those Hispanics are citizen. This suggests a lot about what the peak potential is for each demographic. If we assume the numbers are static and evenly applied (neither of which I’d do in real life), that means the high-water mark for population generation among Hispanics is clocking in at about 46% CVAP (51.2% x 91%). Barring other changes, that means you would never see a CVAP Hispanic majority in Harris County.

» Fortunately, things do change. The 18+ group of Hispanics show signs of citizenship increase, going from 45.7% citizen in the 06-10 ACS, to 50.6% in the 06-11 release, to today’s 54.4% share today. That’s a far faster increase than you’d get from 17 year olds turning one year older. Simply put, this is among the most encouraging numbers I think you’ll find here. I’m not sure how sustainable that is or what factors drive that the most. But as long as Hispanic population is growing and the rate of citizenship is growing, that’s nothing but good.

» The Asian population doesn’t have much room for growth. At least not in Harris County. The Under-18 share of population is at 5.0% and the 18+ share is at 6.8%. That has all the earmarks of a ceiling that’s been hit. Don’t say you weren’t warned. There’s still ample room for growth in faster-growing suburbs and other areas with a low starting point for Asian population. But in Harris County … not likely. That makes Houston a very odd place to read about the growing Asian population meme, if nothing else.

Fair warning: there will be more maps and data with some excellent health insurance and educational data included in the release.

Travel Day

December 23, 2013 College No Comments

I’ll be travelling the mean streets of I-45 today to get back home for the holidays. So in lieu of any real blogging, I’ll simply note that I had no idea that former UH quarterback and coach’s son Clay Helton was on staff with USC for their Saturday bowl game. He ends his head coaching stint with a perfect 1-0 record as USC named a new head coach and a strong desire to keep Clay as Offensive Coordinator and QB Coach. Hey, it’s not bad news for every former Cougar QB!

JerryWorld 2013: The Saturday Finale

December 21, 2013 High School No Comments

Every game today has a Metroplex representative and the daily attendance has been wratcheting up from the previous years. So there’s all kinds of predictions of attendance records falling. And with that, I’m off to get an early seat.

Bigtime Saturday games on tap today:

12p – 4A Division II – Brenham v Aledo – Aledo was Aledo in this one 38-10. It was a better game than the score indicated and definitely wasn’t as one-sided as the Aledo-LaMarque from a few years back. Brenham represented well.

4p – 5A Division I – Pearland v Allen – Again, the favorites prevail, with the Kyler Murray show driving Allen to a 63-28 win. This one was a showcase clinic for Allen. Beck of a year by Pearland, though. They started the season unranked. I thought that was a huge oversight then and they were a deserving finalist this season. But … Kyler Murray. Whattayagonnado?

8p – 5A Division II – Katy v Cedar Hill

JerryWorld 2013: Friday Afternoon Lights

December 20, 2013 High School No Comments

A more manageable 3-pack of games on tap today. I’m about to head out to take it all in. Last night was definitely a grind – I only made it through part of Q3 of the third game, with all but the first game being about an hour behind due to lenghty games. This time around, I’m bringing something to read other than my smartphone.

Here’s the agenda. Again, I’ll have the occasional update on facebook and twitter:

12p – 3A Division I – Kilgore v Carthage – Carthage wins their 4th title in six years. No shock that they came in as favorites, but Kilgore played them well into the final minutes before Carthage sealed it with a late TD and a 34-23 final.

4p – 3A Division II – Argyle v Fairfield – This one was a bit of a classic, with two lead changes in Q4, a safety, and a turnover on downs at the 9 yard line before Argyle held on for a 38-33 win. Some nice talent on both sides of the ball, including a Texas Tech commit in Argyle WR Ian Sadler.

8p – 4A Division I – Denton Guyer v SA Brennan – This was a great mood-setter for some higher-caliber football on Saturday. Guyer has a great QB (headed to UT) in Jerrod Heard. That was a bit much for the vaunted defense of Brennan whose first-team defense had only given up two touchdowns all season. The final was 31-14, but it was a game going into the final quarter. Despite Brennan’s outcome, their monster LB, Grant Watanabe (a Colorado U commit) was named defensive MVP. From here on out, it’s worth taking note of the names on the rosters since we’re going to see a few that will play on more Saturdays in the future.

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