4-wk sprint: Early Celebration for Mail Ballot Requests

Kuff and Campos (and Campos again) post some good news about mail ballot applications. Namely, the hubbub is on the fact that applications received so far this year outpace the Mail Ballot votes cast in 2012. Emphasis mine, of course.

The effort to catch up to the Hotze/GOP mail ballot program certain ain’t nothing. But it’s still a game of catchup and it’s a game that won’t necessarily show clear results once the Early Vote totals are in on Election Night. As I see it, the markers for this are as follows:

» Does the return rate change (presumably, drop) as a result of a bigger pool of voters sending in applications?

» Is the growth in Mail Ballot voters just cannibalizing from voters who would otherwise vote early or on Election Day?

» Is the dollar amount expended to play catchup among a small pool of voters really worth the effort given the opportunity cost of working the other 93% of the electorate?

While it would no doubt be more entertaining on Election Night to see results that didn’t have Dems in a big hole at the county level, we obviously won’t see the real impact of this program until much later. One of the first rules of campaigning is you do the work you have the money to do the work with. And in this case, raising money to run a Mail Ballot program is easier than some of the things I wish we were doing instead. And, as Kuff notes, there’s no single silver bullet – there needs to be a mail ballot program of some type and there needs to be about a dozen other things done. Battleground Texas and Texas Organizing Project are complements to what the Harris County Democratic Party are doing and several campaigns around the county (including the one for my boss) add to the mix as well.

All that to say: congrats to all on some great work for this component. I’m glad that the work is being done … but I’d just as soon not assume that the game has been forever changed in our favor because of this.

Campos dutifully points out that about 75% of 2012 Mail Ballot Applications were returned as a cast vote. So that’s the marker for what we should see at the end of Early Voting. We’ll know the number of applications sent in and the number of mail ballots returned as votes. Of all the markers, I would assume that this should be reasonably likely to clock in somewhere close to the same 75% based on the assumption that if someone goes through the trouble of sending in an application, there’s a decent chance that they do so with the intention of voting. From my work as an Early Vote clerk in 2013, I saw the flip side of this: people who didn’t want to vote by mail, but were pestered into sending in an application and complaining to high heaven about the “chaser” phone calls that they really wish would end. So that reaction is a reality, but it doesn’t seem to be a majority reaction. Here’s hoping that remains true.

The cannibalization factor is one that I know the Party has a ready answer for. And it involves some portion of those applications being among voters who vote in Presidential years, but not in Gov-year elections. It’s not that I think the share of Pres-only voters that we’re hitting is complete bunk, but I’m a little skeptical of the scale that we’re talking about. One the countywide level, Dems need to make up between 30-50,000 votes to elect a straight slate of judges to the bench. I think the wildly optimistic high end for what a mail ballot program will generate at around 15,000. Which would be fine if that ended up being the case. But there is always a pool of Pres-only voters who end up showing up in Gov-years, just as there is always a pool of nontraditional city-year voters who show up for city elections. My experience is in an apartment-heavy, highly-mobile electorate, but I’m used to seeing 25% new voters in elections where we expect only “the usual voters” showing up. That may be on the high end, but I don’t think it’s beyond the pale to suggest that about 15% of the electorate is going to be new voters. Ultimately, though, we won’t know this until the full voter roster comes back. So whatever celebratory numbers we see about Mail Ballot voters should be kept in check until we know all the facts.

The question of opportunity cost is a longer-term issue. Ideally, I would think that we would hope to see the share of the electorate from Mail Ballots remain roughly the same while improving our showing among those Mail Ballot votes. That would suggest minimal cannibalization and suggest that the “new voter” pool is legitimately separate from what normally drives new voters to the polls on any given election. Those are tough metrics to hit. And I would love to see them be hit. But if all you’ve done is move some Early, In-Person Voters over to the Mail Voter column, the issue of where those dollars could have been better spent ought to be a question seriously addressed.

It’s not like we haven’t been here before. Early Vote 2008 returns were celebrated on a daily basis until candidates and poll workers realized that Election Day was a barren wasteland of activity since so many votes had been banked. Efforts to bank votes earlier in the process aren’t worth zero dollars. But if you’re challenge is to make a non-Pres electorate look like a Pres-year electorate, I would argue that two of the worst places to start would be knocking on single-family home doors and focusing efforts on Over-65 voters. Targeting voters is all fine and well, but it still leaves significant swathes of geography untouched by so-called modern campaign techniques. Whatever the results ultimately show, here’s the math for what we’ve seen before:

        STRAIGHT PARTY  |      GOV       |    US SEN     | Cast Votes  | of Electorate
2012    40.5% - 59.2%   |      ---       | 41.6% - 57.0% |   76,025    |     6.3%
2010    32.0% - 67.6%   | 41.9% - 56.9%  |      ---      |   55,510    |     6.9%
2008    33.8% - 65.8%   |      ---       | 35.6% - 62.8% |   67,556    |     5.7% 
2006    38.4% - 61.2%   | 29.7% - 47.7%  | 34.9% - 63.9% |   23,314    |     3.8%
2004    32.5% - 67.3%   |      ---       |      ---      |   47,163    |     4.3%
2002    36.1% - 63.6%   | 33.5% - 65.6%  | 36.3% - 63.1% |   34,993    |     5.3%

Democrats can win in Harris County by two methods: either what Battleground, HCDP, TOP and others are doing make the difference, or we were going to win anyway with a nice, helping hand from demographics. Ultimately, I’m fine with either. We can haggle the details after the election if we’re successful.

4-wk sprint: 30-Day Out Finance Reports for Harris County Legislative Candidates

Totals from 30-Day out reports are shown below for all Harris County legislative seats. I’m not sure what the rules are candidates who may not have opposition in November, or why Huberty, Smith, and Fletcher filed reports while nine Dems don’t. Frankly, the thought of investigating Green and Lib candidates to see how that impacts this doesn’t appeal to me very much.

The only race that the very smart people in Austin will see as competitive in the county is going to be HD149. I think the earlier report totals will help shed some light on how the overall spending looks in that district. But just looking at how much is left in the bank for both sides, I don’t know that I’d expect to see TV ads running anytime soon. I’d also suspect that a low-budget affair combined with the redistricted HD149 favors Hubert Vo for re-election.

HD144, however, is substantially more competitive. It’s just stunning that Republicans can’t field a credible candidate willing to work the phones a little to raise money. Mary Ann Perez, by all accounts I see, is running hard for re-election and taking nothing as a given. Her money totals demonstrate that.

                 RAISED         SPENT        ON HAND    
SD17 - Huffman $182,425.00   $150,113.14    $962,333.95 

127 - Huberty   $14,431.72    $12,380.42     $17,499.70
128 - Smith     $18,500.00    $17,152.75    $224,657.31 
129 - Paul      $46,027.72    $32,375.17     $17,933.17 
130 - Fletcher  $12,481.72    $10,714.20     $21,672.03
132 - Schofield $46,386.72    $16,537.84     $48,437.64 
133 - Murphy    $38,831.72    $24,457.91    $195,692.84 
134 - Davis     $77,581.59    $35,106.87    $107,170.28 
135 - Elkins    $13,731.73     $4,825.56    $326,905.00 
137 - Fiki       $2,315.00     $3,836.49      $3,846.47 
138 - Bohac     $14,086.73    $24,259.71     $23,590.26 
144 - Pena       $2,633.16      $395.91       $2,068.00 
148 - Carmona   $5,821.72     $5,144.78       $9,235.88 
149 - Hoang    $21,956.72    $25,922.10      $20,692.61 
150 - Riddle   $10,100.00     $4,361.33      $56,358.17 

                 RAISED         SPENT        ON HAND
SD17 - Lucido    $63,017.00    $61,611.09     $97,144.68

129 - Gay        $1,050.00    $10,078.15      $3,309.38
131 - Allen      $1,250.00     $8,569.39     $31,428.21
132 - Lopez      $4,951.60     $3,420.41      $1,081.19
133 - Nicol        $711.57       $778.22      $1,599.97
134 - Ruff           $0.00         $0.00          $0.00 
135 - Abbas      $1,241.00     $3,640.25      $1,241.00
137 - Wu        $28,150.00    $34,531.83     $31,662.43
138 - Vernon         NA            NA             NA
139 - Turner         NA            NA             NA
140 - Walle          NA            NA             NA
141 - Thompson       NA            NA             NA                        
142 - Dutton         NA            NA             NA
143 - Hernandez      NA            NA             NA
144 - Perez     $95,538.55    $48,324.96    $105,724.57
145 - Alvarado       NA            NA             NA
146 - Miles          NA            NA             NA
147 - Coleman        NA            NA             NA
148 - Farrar    $18,587.12     $9,327.03     $94,448.93
149 - Vo        $64,150.00    $30,110.31     $59,712.79
150 - Perez        $325.00         $0.00        $918.91

4-week sprint: The Un-hiatus-ing

Far be it from me to let a good old fashioned election go by without posting a few comments, observations, or other trifling thoughts. I’ve had some offline conversation on the state of the campaign and I think it’s worth putting some of those thoughts down as a marker to see how they measure up after the results are counted. So, while the real world (ie – Elsie, the basset hound) and day job still intrude into the available time for blogging, the next four weeks are important enough to find some spare time hidden in my sofa cushions.

For the first week or so, I’ll likely expend a few pixels unpacking some of the interim Legislative work I’ve been following. That basically provides a preview of what’s in store for the next session. And it should highlight some of what’s at stake for ballots cast on November 4th. Ultimately, we’ll get around to the job that the statewides are doing, and more to the point, what Battleground Texas does or doesn’t add to the mix. Kuff is already two takes ahead of me on this point. I’m optimistic that we’ll be at a draw soon enough.

On the “data-driven” side of the ledger, the 30-day out campaign finance reports have been turned in and we now have a fairly reliable image of the few competitive races that exist in the county. And after the election, there will be the obligatory maps along with some tale of where Democrats are gaining/losing ground.

Most importantly, I’m hoping to post some daily updates during Early Voting along the lines of what I’ve worked on in 2010 and 2012. This should give some good insight into how Harris County is performing going into Election Day. Of course, the 2012 effort on my part usually had me giving a daily update along the lines of “It’s about 50/50. Welcome to parity-ville.” I think if we see something comparable in a non-Presidential year, that should be a good thing.

Anyways, my newfound commitment to blogging coincides with a trip to Austin tomorrow to listen to a presentation on the budget. I’m fairly certain that I can find a few excuses to relate some of that to November and beyond.

Florida Redistricting Set to Kick Off

» Miami Herald: Florida Legislature to convene for special session on redistricting

Florida is set to initiate what should be a limited round of redistricting today …

Florida legislators will convene a rare summer special session, beginning Thursday, with the goal of making quick work of a court-ordered fix to the congressional redistricting map.

Legislators will convene at noon, meet briefly and then adjourn to let the House and Senate redistricting committees hold a joint meeting to hear legislative lawyers explain their options for fixing the congressional boundaries that last month were ruled unconstitutional by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis.

Lewis gave lawmakers an Aug. 15 deadline to repair two congressional districts — held by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville and Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden. Although lawmakers have called the session to last a week, they expect to be finished by late Monday or early Tuesday.

This seems like it should be somewhat comparable to the 2006-era redistricting in Texas that led to CD23 being repaired and that ultimately led to Ciro Rodriguez offing Henry Bonilla.

The main district affected in this instance, however, is that of Corrine Brown – an African-American who represents the Fifth District which snakes from Jacksonville to Orlando. For those who oppose districts drawn in funny shapes, it’s worth noting that at least part of the rationale behind the court decision striking this down has to do with Florida constitutional provisions covering redistricting that were passed in 2010.

At issue in Brown’s District Five is that the baseline district started off with a Black Voting Age Population (BVAP) that was 47-48% Afr-Am and the 2012 version of the district was drawn to be a solid majority BVAP. On one level, that solves any challenges to retrogression. On the other hand, it compresses more black voters into a district, enabling more opportunity for GOP districts elsewhere. Here’s how the Florida circuit court saw the casec:

Congressional District 5 does not adhere to the tier-two standards in Article III Section 20. It is visually not compact, bizarrely shaped, and does not follow traditional political boundaries as it winds from Jacksonville to Orlando. At one point, District 5 narrows to the width of Highway 17. The district has a Reock score of only 0.09. Enacted District 5 has majority black voting age population (BVAP), but the benchmark districting was only a plurality BVAP district. The Defendants’ argument that the vote dilution provision of Article III Section 20 and Section 2 ofthe Voting Rights Act required a majority BVAP district and that this configuration was necessary to achieve that end, is not supported by the evidence.

Plaintiffs have shown that a more tier-two compliant district could have been drawn that would not have been retrogressive. The plans proposed by the House of Representatives prior to conference committee plan 9047 being adopted were all more compact and split fewer counties. While not model tier-two compliant districts, these iterations did avoid the narrow appendage jutting from the body of the district into Seminole County. Such appendages are particularly suspect of prohibited intent to benefit a political party or incumbent. Furthermore, the House’s various iterations achieved a BVAP of between 47 and 48 percent. The House’s chief map drawer, Alex Kelly, testified that he perfonned a functional analysis on these iterations, and that this level of minority population would not have been retrogressive. Indeed, this is higher than the BVAP ofbenclunark district when it was enacted.

The vote dilution provisions in Article III, Section 20 and in the Voting Rights Act do not require the creation of a majority-minority district wherever possible, but only where certain conditions–conditions first announced in Thornburg v. Gingles, 418 U.S. 30, 50-51 (1986)-are satisfied. First, three preconditions must be present: (i) the minority population is sufficiently large and geographically compact to be a majority of the voting-age population; (ii) the minority population is politically cohesive; and (iii) the majority population votes sufficiently as a bloc to enable it usually to defeat the candidates preferred by minorities. Apportionment/, 83 So. 3d at 622 (citing Gingles, 478 U.S. at 50-51).

The Legislature made no effort during the redistricting process to determine if the Gingles preconditions existed for this district, nor does the evidence introduced at trial demonstrate that they exist now. The minority population is not sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority of the voting age population. To achieve a BVAP over 50%, the district connects two far flung urban populations in a winding district which picks up rural black population centers along the way. The Gingles compactness inquiry certainly is focused on more than just district lines. See League of United Latin Am. Citizens v. Perry, 548 U.S. 399, 433 (2006). But it also doesn’t ignore such lines. See ld District 5 is simply not compact for the purpose of the Gingles analysis.

Nor does the evidence prove the third precondition. There is no dispute that there is racially polarized voting in Northeast Florida. However, Defendants have not shown that this polarization is legally significant. Because “the extent of bloc voting necessary to demonstrate that a minority’s ability to elect its preferred representatives is impaired varies according to several factual circumstances, the degree of bloc voting which constitutes the threshold of legal significance will vary from district to district.” Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. at 50. The evidence is undisputed that the benchmark district, which was never majority-minority, elected an African-American to Congress during its entire existence. Additionally, analysis by Dr. Brunell, an expert retained by the House, suggested that there would be a 50/50 ability to elect a minority candidate of choice with a BVAP as low as 43.6 %. Thus, the evidence does not establish that the majority population votes sufficiently as a bloc to enable it usually to defeat the candidates preferred by minorities.

I also fimd that the decision to increase the district to majority BVAP, which was accomplished in large part by creating the finger-like appendage jutting into District 7 and Seminole County, was done with the intent of benefiting the Republican Party. I reach this conclusion based in part on the inference that the Florida Supreme Court suggested could be drawn from oddly shaped appendages that had no legal justification.

On the surface, this seems like a throwback to redistricting during the 1990s. Then, you had a large number of Anglo Dems who benefited greatly by diluting African-American voters enough to bolster weakening support among Anglo voters. Republicans at that time saw the value of the Voting Rights Act provisions that led to strengthening districts in a way that led to more districts where African-American voters were allowed to elect candidates of their choosing. It also led to some of the complex political relationships seen in the 2000s with the Ron Wilsons and Sylvester Turners here in Texas.

Fast forward to the Texas version of 2011 redistricting, and we see some similarities to the Florida situation – Afr-Am electeds preferring majority BVAP shares, seeing districts that contained more Hispanic population, and expressing concern about their political future – despite the fact that citizenship erases those advantages for Hispanics in the district.

The Florida case re-awakens some of these issues by exposing differences between the Congressional Black Caucus and the DCCC.

The Florida lege kicks off today and is hoping to wrap things up by the 15th. That’s encouraging that the result may be limited in scope. I wouldn’t expect the Fifth District to be negatively impacted – it clocked in at 71% support for Obama in 2012. Shaving the BVAP population below majority without retrogression shouldn’t have much impact in theory. But since the tradeoff seems to be with the GOP-held Seventh District (which went 47.1% for Obama), that could be problematic. In the case of the latter, I would presume that the GOP-held legislature will dutifully protect Republican voters in the district to continue sending candidates of their choice. At first glance, a minimal amount of tweaking to get the 5th just below majority BVAP should accomplish that. We’ll see ….

A Free-Market Intrusion into Health Care

» Washington Post: The drug that’s forcing America’s most important – and uncomfortable – health-care debate

Months before Gilead Sciences’ breakthrough hepatitis C treatment hit the market, Oregon Medicaid official Tom Burns started worrying about how the state could afford to cover every enrollee infected with the disease. He figured the cost might even reach $36,000 per patient.

Then the price for the drug was released last December: $84,000 for a 12-week treatment course.

At that price, the state would have to spend $360 million to provide its Medicaid beneficiaries with the drug called Sovaldi, just slightly less than the $377 million the Oregon Medicaid program spent on all prescription drugs for about 600,000 members in 2013. It potentially would be a backbreaker.

It’s not just Oregon. Having watched many of the interim hearings going on with the Texas Lege, we’re seeing references to the drug’s impact on costs all over the place. The Employee Retirement System highlighted the impact on their health care coverage costs by noting that their costs for all “compound drugs” rose from $660k in 2009 to $31.3 million in 2014. UTMB-Galveston, in pointing out how their pharmacy costs were similarly impacted, noted that while Hepatitis C prevalence is somewhere around 1-1.5% in the free world, it turns up in about 30% of the prison inmates that it sees.

The response by the Health and Human Services Commission was to ask Medicaid to cover the costs (alas – EXPANSION!). That was without luck, as it was suggested by the Medicaid board that Texas do what “other reputable groups were recommending.” Which is what agencies like ERS have chosen to do: limit drugs like Sovaldi by requiring approval on a patient-by-patient basis.

I think its safe to say we’ll be hearing more about the drug and others like it during the next legislative session. But the cost factors that are pushing state-level health care costs into the red are greater than just one drug. Still, it’s always good sporting fun to see states that deny Medicaid expansion under ‘evil Obamacare’ turn to Medicaid to cover costs associated with drugs like Sovaldi. But it’s also an interesting case study anytime you have a hyper-expensive drug that’s incredibly effective in a field full of low- and reasonably-priced drugs that haven’t proven effective. The current bet to resolve this seems to be over whether newer drugs will enter the market and drive costs down, or whether they’ll engage in “shadow pricing” – setting their price point at a premium on a similar basis to Sovaldi. I don’t think those two options are exclusive of one another (say, if a new entrant sets their cost at $40-50,000). But even more worth watching is to see the so-called conservative reaction to a drug being priced at something that at least mimics free-market pricing practices.

» Wonkblog: Why Sovaldi took off: Previous treatments were terrible
» NY Times: Gilead’s Hepatitis C Drug, Sovaldi, Is on Pace to Become a Blockbuster
» Forbes: Politicizing Gilead’s Research And Development Costs For Sovaldi Is A Reckless And Dangerous Misadventure

HISD 2014 Redistricting: CVAP & Voter Registration Data

Here’s the data dump for what the proposed HISD trustee districts look like, drilling down to the new numbers I have for Citizen Voting Age Population and also for Voter Registration …

             (2010 Census) 
    Pop.    Anglo  Hisp   AfrAm   Asian
1  153,789  26.5%  64.6%   7.2%    1.3%
2  155,562   8.5%  41.7%  48.9%    0.4%
3  146,509   7.3%  79.1%  10.4%    2.8%
4  156,281  20.1%  16.5%  55.2%    7.7%
5  149,488  51.3%  29.0%   7.2%   11.8%
6  149,999  34.0%  35.5%  19.6%   10.2%
7  156,191  51.2%  32.2%   7.9%    8.0%
8  148,057  18.9%  58.7%  19.6%    2.2%
9  149,658   8.3%  38.1%  49.6%    3.6%

             2010 Census 
    Pop.    Anglo  Hisp   AfrAm   Asian
1  113,386  31.7%  59.2%   7.1%   1.5%  
2  111,438  10.3%  36.9%  51.9%   0.5%  
3  101,791   9.4%  75.5%  11.4%   3.2%  
4  124,836  23.2%  14.4%  53.3%   8.5%  
5  113,236  54.1%  26.0%   7.3%  12.0%  
6  115,702  38.2%  31.7%  18.7%  10.7%  
7  129,826  54.8%  28.6%   7.8%   8.2%  
8  113,927  23.0%  53.3%  20.4%   2.5%  
9  104,863  10.0%  34.5%  51.0%   4.1%  

    2008-12 American Community Survey
     Pop.    Anglo  Hisp   AfrAm   Asian
1   83,880   41.9%  46.6%   9.0%   1.7%  
2   91,325   13.0%  22.8%  63.3%   0.4%  
3   66,710   15.0%  63.2%  18.1%   3.1%  
4  102,285   24.9%   8.2%  61.9%   4.0%  
5   85,865   69.1%  12.9%   8.3%   8.8%  
6   83,005   47.0%  19.2%  24.6%   7.6%  
7   93,125   68.7%  16.3%   8.1%   5.6%  
8   85,855   30.0%  42.0%  25.0%   2.2%  
9   87,390   13.1%  20.6%  61.9%   3.2%  

              2012 General Election
      Total           Non-Suspense
   Reg Voters  SSVR%   Reg Voters  SSVR%   SSTO%
1    69,296    40.7%    60,531     41.5%   33.2%
2    87,593    16.8%    76,850     17.3%   13.3%
3    49,644    59.1%    43,749     60.9%   55.6%
4    95,488     6.5%    77,510      6.5%    5.9%
5    80,246     9.8%    69,032      9.5%    8.7%
6    67,920    13.0%    55,841     12.6%   11.4%
7    78,866    10.2%    65,051      9.4%    8.9%
8    64,531    41.2%    54,933     43.2%   33.7%
9    74,370    15.0%    65,542     15.8%   12.2%

Recall that Districts 1, 3, and 8 are the Hispanic opportunity districts. It’s interesting to see how the population shares go as you move down from the most expansive (Total Population) down to the least (Share of Turnout). Here’s what that looks like, isolated by each of those three districts:

                    DISTRICT 1
                    Anglo  Hisp   AfrAm   Asian
TOTAL POP  153,789  26.5%  64.6%   7.2%   1.3%
VAP        113,386  31.7%  59.2%   7.1%   1.5%  
CVAP        83,880  41.9%  46.6%   9.0%   1.7%  
VOTER REG   69,296         40.7%    
TURNOUT                    33.2%

                    DISTRICT 3
                    Anglo  Hisp   AfrAm   Asian
TOTAL POP  146,509  7.3%   79.1%  10.4%   2.8%
VAP        101,791  9.4%   75.5%  11.4%   3.2%  
CVAP        66,710  15.0%  63.2%  18.1%   3.1%  
VOTER REG   49,644         59.1%  
TURNOUT                    55.6%

                    DISTRICT 8
                    Anglo  Hisp   AfrAm   Asian
TOTAL POP  148,057  18.9%  58.7%  19.6%   2.2%
VAP        113,927  23.0%  53.3%  20.4%   2.5%  
CVAP        85,855  30.0%  42.0%  25.0%   2.2%  
VOTER REG   64,531         41.2%   
TURNOUT                    33.7%

One extra highlight on these shares that seems less obvious, but definitely interesting is how the Anglo and Afr-Am population shares break in District 1 and 8. I would guess that the turnout in District 1 in particular may be majority-Anglo (or, at least, pretty close to 50%). It’s conceivable that you could see an Anglo majority voting for a very different candidate than the Hispanic population and winning that district. Meanwhile, in District 8, the CVAP split is more evenly balanced between Anglos and Afr-Am population. Making that district more secure as a functioning Hispanic opportunity district is that Anglo and Afr-Am voters don’t typically vote alike. So there’s less chance of a coalescing majority to out-vote what may not even be a plurality of Hispanic voters in that district. Of course, as luck would have it, both of those districts have pretty good representatives that any voter would be proud to have on the Board.

It’s also worth remembering that it’s not just the population shares that influence whether a district is a true opportunity district. District 1, for instance, seems to have a decent split of Bubba voters and Inner-Loop liberal Anglo voters. But what the numbers suggest is that it may prove to be increasingly challenging to maintain three solid opportunity districts over time. Obviously, this map only has a life span of six years before it will need to be re-drawn again. It should be interesting to see how creative the map has to get to avoid retrogression next time around.

HISD 2014 Redistricting: Austin HS Hearing

I spent last night embedded at the fourth and final HISD Redistricting field hearing at Austin High School, located near the University of Houston campus. As dumb luck would have it, I had to tend to dad’s passing away last week, which contained two redistricting hearings. Among the things you find out when you get back in the saddle of redistricting chatter is that it doesn’t take long for these things to get repetitive.

Gene Locke does the standard opening info to a crowd of something less than 10 or so (including myself, excluding legal/translation/cartographic staff). There will be a private session of HISD’s board to discuss legal matters involved in redistricting. And the next time we have this conversation in public will be at the Aug 14th public session. Since there was no overly-heated discussion at the North Forest hearing, I’d have to think that the proposed map is looking fairly solid for approval. Again, if you want to rifle through the numbers, the info packet is here.

As better luck would have it, I do have shapefiles for both the “interim” map that incorporated North Forest ISD into HISD trustee districts, as well as the proposed plan being presented at these hearings. If you want to check the 2011-era plan, here’s a link to that for your enjoyment. The “interim” plan, for all intents and purposes, is irrelevant for the sake of comparison. The proposed plan is embedded here for your clicking and zooming fun.

» full page
» Google Earth file

I’ve got a request in for calculating those lovely CVAP numbers as well. I’ll update whenever I get those results back.

For the light turnout at last night’s affair, the questions were pretty good: one asked about the use of 2010 Census data; another about the fairness of representation for Latinos given the relatively low citizenship rates, and Why there were so few public hearings? All things considered, it didn’t sound as if there were significant major questions about the drawing of the districts. So there’s a chance that the plan could be approved as-is at the August meeting. Wait and see.


NFISD Total Population Overlay

Gerald T. Wythe, Sr. (1943-2014)

A little belated obit this time around. It seems I missed a call on July 3rd from an 817 number. Since I didn’t recognize the number, google informed me that it was for the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office, which pretty much filled in a few blanks for me. It turns out that dad had passed in his sleep a little less than 11 months after mom’s passing.

wpid-20140708_222519-1.jpgMost of these moments are just dealt with by some run-of-the-mill grieving, replaying of memories, funerals, and exchanges of some kind words with long-lost friends. This being the last of my parents, there was some added work of dealing with attorneys, banks, and insurance companies. There’s also a house and truck to sell whenever the probate process allows for. In short – there’s more work to do this time around.

On the plus side, I got to hang out with my sister for the first time since I don’t know when. I spoke with my brother for the first time since I don’t know when. And I got to show Elsie the wonders of a big back yard to play in. And little 5-month-old Elsie got to terrorize an old hunting dog for a couple of days. I’d much rather have had the opportunity to show Elsie off to dad in December, but the timing is what it is.

So that makes eleven months of losing a mom, grandmother, and dad. Hardly the most fun thing in the world. But since I’m writing a bit past due on all of this, most of the grieving has already been processed.

At some point between the time I moved out in the mid-90s and now, I’ve realized a lot of attributes that I’ve picked up from dad in particular. I remember a handful of years when dad worked as a grocery warehouse manager, the family would celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas early in the day – and then see dad off to work later in the day. It turns out that delivering groceries didn’t take much of a holiday. I suppose some families would see this as tragic and wish they could celebrate a full holiday. We chose to see it as something more heroic as dad would go off to save the day for a world in need of food. I’m sure that there’s a small part of that experience that sticks with me as I see any and all major holidays as an excuse to do more work. I’m equally sure that whatever part of my brain is in charge of understanding logistics has been aided by either genetics or osmosis. Just as well that one of the items I took with me was a model of an old Fleming 18-wheeler that dad had in his study. So those aspects live on.

It was also dad who started the Cougar tradition in our household. He was a student and mom worked on campus when they met. When I was a kid, I somehow gravitated to dad’s old yearbooks and textbooks. Dad was a running back at Galveston Ball High School. He was a backup to the great Oscar Cripps, who would go on to coach Craig James and the Klingler brothers at Stratford High School. After Cripps graduated, dad spent the next year as a starting running back for the Toros. That always made him a bit of a badass in my book.

When the family moved out to Mississippi (and continued when we moved to the DFW mid cities), we would pack up for a handful of weekend roadtrips back to Texas so that mom & dad could go to UH football games and us kids would stay with Grandma Wythe in Galveston. Along the way, we usually stopped in Center for some of Grandma Elliot’s barbeque. If there’s a better family tradition then that, I’d like to hear your case.

My parents did this during the 1975 season that had the Cougars go 2-8. The next season, UH entered the Southwest Conference and earned co-champion status. That sent us to our first Cotton Bowl (back when it meant something) and ended the season ranked 4th in the nation. Cubs fans have it easy compared to Coog fans. And getting that story told to you as a kid teaches you a great deal about loyalty.

Eventually, me and sis got to go to some games on a regular basis. Dad got field passes once so that me and my brother could watch Arkansas blow out the Coogs at the Dome. We visited games at College Station (where we witnessed our first win in that stadium), Arkansas (where I’m pretty sure I spent more time observing cheerleaders), Waco (same), and Austin (mom and dad got to see the 30-0 win; us kids got to observe a 55-to-something blowout loss). We learned heartbreak as a family when John Jenkins took a poorly-prepared team to face the Miami Hurricanes in 1991. I’ve never forgiven Gino Torretta for it, either.

I went through a lot of the leaner Run & Shoot years, attending games with my parents. We spent a Christmas Eve watching the Briles/Kolb-era Coogs get in fights with the University of Hawaii mascot. And it was never terribly unexpected to get a call from dad immediately after a UH win – or even when Trinity High School won a big game. I never suited up to play the game like dad did. But those moments help explain some of the fascination for it. I’m pretty sure that’ll live on, too.

Why Voting Precinct Detail and Geography Matter

» NY Times: Mistrust in North Carolina Over Plan to Reduce Precincts

My kind of detail …

When Alan Langley, a Republican member of the local elections board here, explains a new proposal to consolidate five voting precincts into two, it sounds procedural and well-meaning: He speaks of convenient parking and wheelchair access at the proposed polling places, and of saving more than $10,000 per election.

Those precincts, however, are rich with black voters who generally vote Democratic. And when the Rev. Dante Murphy, the president of the Cleveland County N.A.A.C.P. chapter, discusses the plan, he talks of “disenfranchisement” and “conspiracy.”

“We know,” Mr. Murphy said, “that this is part of a bigger trend — a movement to suppress people’s right to vote.”

The bitter disagreement in this city of 20,000 is part of a broader voting rights battle charged by race and partisan politics that is happening in a number of communities, many of them Southern, where changes to election laws no longer require advance approval from the federal government after a year-old Supreme Court ruling voided a key section of the Voting Rights Act.

The Lege here in Texas passed HB1164 to allow for something along these lines in Texas. The stated goal was to reduce some of the “Precinct Inflation” that comes from redistricting. I’m not well enough versed in how it is that the recent round of redistricting bloated the number of precincts from 885 to over 1069, as opposed to the old days when we had over 1200 precincts that wound down to 885 in years past.

The layout of the original bill is below. The author was a freshman and fell for some of the confusion I had in reading the bill: it references “wards”. As Ed Johnson (at about 10:55) clears up later in testimony, “ward” just means city council district in statute. Some of the other issues of ADA-compliant polling locations are also mentioned as reasons that the change is needed. And as Johnson goes on to mention, there was an additional bill by Johnson’s former boss that would have limited the number of precincts even further.

I haven’t seen anything on either the Tax Assessor or County Attorney sites to indicate that there are proposed changes, but I would think that December 2014 would around the time we might hear about it. So we’ll go through at least one more election in my own HD137 with a single voting precinct that contains one registered voter.

What Happens to City Elections in Even-Numbered Years?

In light of the recent petition-eering to overturn City Council’s recently passed Equal Right Ordinance, I want to double back on a point I’ve been meaning to explore. Namely, that of how Houston council districts behave electorally in different years. This may prove to be a little relevant in light of what defenders of the ordinance believe will be a “cranking out of the base” – at least within the city.

There are basically two hypotheses to consider here. One being that a more energized electorate will see an unequal proportion of extra turnout for one side or the other; the other being that a more energized electorate will merely transform an electorate from a relatively low-turnout affair to a high-turnout affair.

The difference being that an unbalanced result (from the perspective of HERO supporters) would lead to greater turnout among liberal Dems, with no corresponding increase from conservative Republicans. The inverse of this scenario was seen in the 2010 elections, where the then-recent Tea Party movement turned out a higher share of Republican voters in a non-Presidential year, while Democratic voters held to a more common non-Presidential turnout level.

The alternate scenario, and one that I focus more on, is that any natural uptick in turnout that is more balanced would naturally favor Democrats and, plausibly, Democratic-favored issues on the ballot. This is what we see in a number of legislative districts, including my own HD137. Depending on your vocabulary, you might suggest that some areas just have more “low propensity voters” who only seem to turnout for Presidential years. In the case of Harris County, and its relatively high share of renters (and largely apartment-dwelling), I’m not convinced that vocabulary fits since it doesn’t make as much sense to target a voter in cases where they’re likely to move every couple of years. For whatever reasons one wishes to attribute to it, however, folks like me who live in an apartment just don’t vote on an annual basis compared to, say, a homeowner in Kingwood.

So, since we may be headed to a point where we are holding a city election in a Governor-year election cycle, what does the electorate look like? And while we’re at it, why not see how they behave in Presidential years, as well?

The way I measure this is to look at the individualized score that the Voter Activation Network has on voters. I’ve used that data in 2010 and 2012 to see what Early Voting voters look like and the results have been incredibly useful. The folks at ProPublica give an overview of the algorithm fun. My nickel version is that it’s a 100-point scale of how likely you are to vote Democratic (whatever you take that to mean). For the record, my score is a 93 (up from an 85 in 2012!).

There are several grains of salt to take with the level of precision this gets you. When I crunched numbers in 2012, I operated on an assumption that the results were about 1.5-2.0 points skewed in favor of Dems and factored that accordingly. I can’t say that I’ve spent enough time with the recent data to see if it’s gotten better or worse. For the time being, I’ll just say that I do like using these results as a “darn good approximation.”

That said, here’s how each district stacks up in terms of “Pro-Democratic” levels of support:

Democratic support by Voters in Houston City Council District

2013 Voters       2012 Voters    2010 Voters
-----------       -----------    -----------
a - 42.28            51.49          46.17
b - 91.20            
c - 51.63            49.04          47.99
d - 85.85            
e - 29.16            
f - 55.81            65.78          61.86
g - 27.70            
h - 77.37            
i - 78.06            
j - 56.29            67.61          62.63
k - 71.01*           

    56.43            59.99          56.13

One obvious caveat here is that I only look at the City of Houston results within Harris County. That makes quite a different in District K, which has about a third of it’s population/voters in Fort Bend County. Likewise, District F has a negligible impact from a small number of Fort Bend voters.

I then opted to look at the closest things to “swing districts” and decided to crunch the results for 2012 voters within the district and 2010 voters within the district. This introduces another cavaet: the further back you go with VAN data, the cloudier the picture gets. Voters move, voters drop out of the database, there are imperfections in the data. Still, the results are informative, even if they’re not 100% scientifically precise.

One final, bigger caveat is that not everyone that turns out votes in every contest. We see this a lot in non-Mayoral contests, with anywhere from 10-25% of the turnout not casting a ballot in some races. And there’s no way to capture who does and doesn’t cast a vote in an individual contest. So we fly blind on that count. In the case of what might be a hotly-contested HERO referendum, I somehow suspect that we’ll see single-digit dropoff if and when it’s all said and done.

The results confirm my belief that if you want to see a very different City Council, try holding it in a Presidential year. District A would be a ripe candidate for a more progressive candidate. And while District F is already Democratic-leaning, it would be a significantly less questionable proposition for a Dem-leaning candidate. District J overlaps quite a bit with my more familiar HD137 and the amount of swing from city-cycle to any other cycle gives some evidence to what happens when more voters vote.

Ellen Cohen’s District C is the one district hanging in the balance, going from one side of the razor’s edge to another. But even here, there’s more to consider: namely, are the Republicans here as angry about gay folk as Jared Woodfill is hoping the rest of the city is? I’m not inclined to believe they are. But it’s definitely worth watching to see the results within that district.

The citywide total is also calculated (again, not including Fort Bend, but also not including the negligible amount of voters in Montgomery County). I’m not sure how instructive that will be since the bigger battleground for Team Woodfill is going to be to see how many African-American votes they think they can peel off.

Among the datapoints we have for what that will get for the repeal effort are the recent efforts to either institute gay marriage bans or repeal gay marriage laws:

When California voted for a gay marriage ban in 2008, 70 percent of African Americans voted for it, and when North Carolina overwhelmingly passed a similar measure earlier this year, many cited the black vote as a big reason. (Shortly after the ban passed in North Carolina, President Obama came out in favor of gay marriage.)

On Tuesday in Maryland, though, 46 percent of African Americans supported gay marriage. And according to national exit polls, 52 percent of both black and Latino voters who turned out Tuesday said they support gay marriage in their states.

(The largest shift came from black women, of which 59 percent now support gay marriage, compared to 42 percent of black men — a huge gender gap.)

That’s a big turnaround from recent years. In 2008 and 2009, a Pew Research Center survey showed just 28 percent of African Americans and 39 percent of Latinos backed gay marriage. And by 2010, support in those communities was rising slower than it was among whites.

The exit polls suggest both groups have now moved in large numbers toward supporting gay marriage. Their shifts may not be bigger than other demographics, but the fact that they are shifting at all (after sticking to their opposition) is what’s really significant here.

The make-believe scare tactics over bathrooms aren’t exactly the same thing. If we end up with a vote in November, I suspect we’ll have an idea of just how different an animal we have in this case. Just as well, if the goal is to actually repeal the ordinance, aiming for a vote in an odd-numbered year might have been more beneficial to opponents of the ordinance.

Shrinking the Poll Book for Elections

What signing in on Election Day might look like in the days ahead:

Last session, the Lege passed a bill to allow for electronic signature capture – essentially clearing the way for vendors like this one. Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart’s office was an advocate for it and Stanart himself gave a presentation at last year’s Election Law conference in Austin, in part discussing this option.

The biggest plus for this would seem to be the reduction in time needed to “create” a poll book for Election Day that factors in Early Voters. Relatively recently, that’s been an excuse for cutting off the second weekend of Early Voting. I don’t see the usual suspects suddenly offering to bring those extra days back to the Early Voting schedule. But if the uniforms ever change colors for the folks who decide such things, the availability is in place.

I’m a little curious what happens to the signature comparison challenges when we end up with a lot of misfit doodles that now serve as our signatures. Whenever I sign my name electronically at retail outlets, I’m not capable of recognizing anything about that signature. But I hope that’s a negligible concern.

On the plus side, maybe making the process more digital would smooth out the process for following other aspects of Election Law that seem problematic.

HISD 2014 Redistricting: The ‘North Forest’ Public Hearing

Reporting from Shadydale Elementary in the what used to be the heart of what used to be North Forest ISD. I can’t claim to have had a perfect count of officials and former officials in the building last night, but State Rep. Senfronia Thompson and HISD Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones were definitely present. Attendance for the night, according to my so-so crowd-counting abilities was maybe just north of 40 people. There was a slightly bulkier handout at the meeting (scanned here). My scan doesn’t pick up the maps terribly well, but those can be found in the original doc presented to the board here.

As stated yesterday, I believe this should, in theory, be an easy round of redistricting. North Forest only adds 52,368 people into Houston ISD. The average district size – post-annexation – will be 151,726. So, on the surface, there’s no easy way to have a district that retains much of North Forest’s region. Even if you found a way to leave NFISD whole, it would comprise just more than a third of the hypothetical district. Of course, it was also pointed out that you could triple the number of trustees on the school board. But apparently that number is set in state law, so the school board has no control over it.

As far as the timing of the map-making, the goal is to take something to the board for their August hearing. But that’s not a hard timeline if there’s any difficulties is an issue here. From the tone of the community feedback, it didn’t seem as if there would be much of an issue. Having drawn the lines as recently as 2011, district voters have cast votes and chosen their trustees.

For the sake of discussion, however, HISD’s “Priorities and Principles for Redistricting” have two criteria that add some inertia to the process:

(3) The new HISD Redistricting Plan will be based, to the extent possible, on the existing trustee district composition.

(9) Recognizing the value of incumbent-constituency relations, the new HISD Redistricting Plan will seek to keep existing trustees in their existing districts.

In short, advantage incumbents … which seems like a big deal since North Forest won’t have the possibility to contribute an incumbent to the board. I normally hate criteria like this in years that end in one. But lacking much of a dog in this fight, it would be interesting to see if ‘ll be interesting to see if this came into the conversation at any point. But last night? Nothing.

I was told that there might be a little rabble to be roused at this particular hearing. That explains why I just put up with rush hour traffic out of downtown to get here. I believe the anticipated feedback would along the lines of “why couldn’t you leave NFISD whole?” There was a little of that, but nothing that looked particularly incendiary.

On an additional note of redistricting criteria, I’ll point out another pet peeve of my own:

(6) The HISD Redistricting Plan will use whole county voting precincts, whenever possible, to draw trustee districts.

Emphasis on “whenever possible.” I don’t know if there is any legal basis for determining a meaningful cutoff point for that. In practice, however, it looks a little too convenient. Without a criteria for when “whenever possible” hits a brick wall, it serves to benefit the map-makers. In terms of how it played out in this process, page 27 of the new info packet highlights that fewer precincts are split in the proposed plan.

A couple of new wrinkles for this mid-decade process:

The map-makers created an “in between” map that adds NFISD to HISD and determines a new configuration. In part, this is necessary in order to assign the new turf to existing districts. Officially, those folks now have one of two new school board trustees. Also of importance is that the new map is what legally shows new population deviations between districts as well as a substantially high top-to-bottom deviation between the most-populated and least-populated district. You can’t redistrict without demonstrating that there is more than 10% difference there. And the new top-to-bottom deviation is 25.2%.

Now, I don’t think there is any way to add NFISD and keep those deviations within 10%. But the 25% result is, in one sense, and artificial result. There are a number of ways that NFISD could have been split up. Furthermore, there doesn’t appear to be any legal basis for not redrawing lines in existing districts if it fits within the criteria put forth by HISD. Of course, you get a much bigger can of worms with the trustees, not to mention possible public pushback if you stand accused of fitting in NFISD without the traditional redistricting process. In short, though, there was a map that didn’t need public input to approve and there is now a proposed map that does. For now, that just strikes me as interesting.

The numbers used for redistricting are still the 2010 Census data, but the Rice U. team working the GIS did look at ACS data to see where the districts might be headed in the future. I’ve got a request in for some shapefiles and I plan to do a couple of things with that. One is to overlay that with my favorite view: CVAP Majority, as well as ask the Lege Council in Austin to show the CVAP numbers for the proposed map.

At some point, I’ll also look at the NFISD boundaries on top of that CVAP Majority map and possibly do the same for Total Population and Voting Age Population. That may help demonstrate some of what was mentioned at the meeting about why NFISD is split the way it is between Districts 2 and 8. In short, one part is more predominantly African-American and another isn’t. Allegedly, adding all of NFISD into District 2, for instance, the AfrAm population share would drop and result in a red flag with the Justice Department. On the surface, there’s a bit of irony here: you can’t submit a map that retrogresses AfrAm population, especially when you’re annexing a district as heavily AfrAm as NFISD. But if you were to incorporate NFISD by keeping it whole, you would retrogress the plan. This is exactly the sort of thing that passes for humor at Redistricting Meetups … or so I hear. Part of the problem is that for all its reputation as being heavily African-American, the total population in NFISD is only 66% AfrAm and 30% Hispanic. You might be able to work it so that the AfrAm majority District 2 boosts its AfrAm numbers, but there is still a resulting impact on the Hispanic districts based on all of the other threads you end up pulling from the proverbial sweater to balance out population. Again, this is precisely the sort of thing that makes life interesting for people that play (and work) with maps.

One final not-unexpected item from the public input was a pointed question about what the Anglo share of HISD students was and what the Anglo share of HISD Trustees was. The answers are 8% and 45%. You can probably use your imagination to figure out what the intent of the question was. But it raises an interesting point in my mind about future legal challenges in redistricting. For instance, what if you compared the demographic difference between HISD-eligible parents or families and used that to challenge whether a redistricting plan was representative. I don’t know that the argument would be strong enough to win a judicial or DOJ challenge. But to the extent that any jurisdiction is going to go through the redistricting process during the coming years, it will be interesting to see how differences between electorates and affected individuals plays out. In theory, that would be a very similar argument made by those who wish to see legislative redistricting done based on CVAP. Never let it be said that politics can’t make for interesting bedfellows.

The next hearing is on July 8th at Pin Oak Middle School – just far enough inside the loop to not qualify as SW Houston, but this will be as close as it gets for us. Page 23 of the new packet shows the affected areas where the boundaries change. Our side of town doesn’t have much. I’m expecting a civil affair. In short, if there wasn’t a major hue and cry from North Forest about the draft plan, I’d be willing to bet a Coke that the proposed plan sails through in August.