Election Ticker: The Final Countdown

Vote-pocalypse now!


Getting familiar in D3: This election cycle might have a little less family drama from City Council candidates Susana Almanza and her brother, incumbent Sabino "Pio" Renteria, but that doesn't mean everyone's playing nice. Almanza's most recent mailing asserts D3 residents "can't afford another term of Tío Pio," and attacks Renteria – photoshopped into a cartoon bulldozer dubbed "Pio's CodeNEXT Express" – for supporting the city's (now failed) attempt at rewriting Austin's land development code.

Again With the eSlates: Like the leaves turning and the Longhorns choking, autumn (in even-numbered years) brings the seasonal sounds of, "The machine changed my vote!" In the 78 Texas counties (including Travis and Hays) that use the eSlate machines produced by Austin-based company Hart InterCivic, voters (primarily straight-ticket ones) find their selections changed when they prepare to cast their ballots. These are in fact routine user errors compounded by the age and balky manual interface of the machines (the Chronicle first reported on eSlate snafus in 2004). Election officials urge voters to carefully review their choices onscreen before hitting "cast ballot," but are also eager to reassure voters that this is neither a systemic problem nor a nefarious plot. In a statement, Texas Secretary of State Rolando B. Pablos asked all Texans "to help stop the rampant dissemination of misinformation, which is unduly causing great consternation for Texas voters and eroding trust in our election system." Straight-ticket voting is going away in 2020, so the problem may solve itself, since neither the state nor the feds have ponied up the many millions of dollars it would take to replace the antique technology...

Don't Vote With Your Feet: Take the bus instead! All Capital Metro services will be free on Election Day. So are Lime's bikes and scooters; use the promo code "LIME2VOTE18" for a 30-minute free ride on Nov. 6. (Competitor Bird has not announced such an offer.) Contrary to what you might have heard on social media, Uber and Lyft are not free on E-Day, but there are discounts: Uber will have a "ride to the polls" button on the app, and Lyft will have a 50%-off promo code. Both say they're also working with advocates in "underserved communities" to provide free transport to the polls...

Mo' Money, Mo' Voters: Proper election geeks have two spreadsheets open right now: the cumulative early voting totals and the latest campaign finance reports. We've got deep dives into both on the web, but here are some highlights: Yes, we've blown up previous midterm turnout records both in Travis Co. and statewide; the largest Texas counties, both blue and red, are running just about 3% behind the 2016 pace, with the heavy-turnout final EV numbers still to come at press time. As for cash, the "eight-day" finance reports (the last before E-Day) show candidates raising a little and spending a lot in the last month (you're seeing the results in your mailbox). The push for the Prop A affordable housing bond has already passed the $500,000 mark, and Prop E – the bond to build a health center in Dove Springs – now has its very own political action committee. Some big standing PACs – Real Estate Council of Austin, Austin Board of Realtors, Austin Firefighters Public Safety Fund – have begun to throw in, and even the Democratic Socialists of America have a PAC, which raised less than $1,000 to back D1 candidate Lewis Conway Jr. and Austin Community College incumbent trustee Julie Ann Nitsch...

Firefighters Vote Too: Mayoral challenger Laura Morrison had an inspirational evening Oct. 24 at Threadgill's, joining supporter Sarah Weddington to discuss the mayoral campaign and feminist history and solidarity. The candidate's arrival was not so enjoyable – Morrison's car was T-boned on 15th Street en route to the event. "I'm fine and [campaign aide] Jolene [Kiolbassa] is fine, but my car is not fine." An emergency crew soon arrived, among them a firefighter who was "very kind, and excited" to meet the candidate. At first Morrison was just in a hurry to be on her way, but in due course was delighted to respond to the man's unexpected enthusiasm. "I think I got his vote – and he was very excited to get a campaign T-shirt!"...

Who, Me? "I have been especially mindful that when a crisis hits, it is not the time to throw political punches," wrote Morrison in a press release following Austin's very recent water emergency. Morrison thanked city workers and Austinites for responding to the situation, cited her "background in Community Preparedness and Disaster Management" (a graduate certificate from the University of North Carolina School of Public Health), and then ... she threw a couple of political punches in the direction of You-Know-Who. "Unfortunately, there appears to have been some missteps in communication, which resulted in confusion and concern. Missteps such as the mayor's tweet projecting the water crisis would be resolved in a 'HANDFUL OF DAYS' [from an announcement by Mayor Steve Adler] can lead to a lack of public confidence at a time when the need for trust is at its highest." Morrison continued, "As your mayor, I will make sure that we move forward, looking honestly at the hard questions in order to find solutions for a healthy, sustainable future for our community." But political punches? That's for another day...

Vote Em Out, Cats: Safe to say the most controversial polling place in Central Texas has been the temporary spot at Texas State University, which was open for the first three days of early voting, then shut down indefinitely before Hays County Commissioners voted in an emergency meeting last Friday to open it again for the last two days of early voting, today and tomorrow, from 7am-7pm. County commissioners scheduled the Precinct 3 site's shutdown in advance, in accordance with typical midterm year demand, and unofficially, as Hays County GOP President Wally Kinney told members in an email (made public), because the on-campus site "favors Democrats and we sure don't want that in this ... close election." But the Texas Civil Rights Project intervened, threatening injunction if Hays County didn't reopen the polling place, and on Friday the GOP-leaning court voted unanimously to avoid the legal battle. Commissioners also voted to add an Election Day site in Texas State's LBJ Student Center and extended early voting for the same days in the less populated Precincts 1 (east of I-35) and 4 (Dripping Springs). So Texas State kids will be able to vote on-campus for three more days, and in the meantime a few Dems got some good outreach in: Candidates Lupe Valdez (governor), Mike Collier (lite guv), Miguel Suazo (land commissioner), Joseph Kopser (CD-21), and Erin Zwiener (HD-45) spent part of Friday busing students to nearby polls...

Guerrilla Signfare: Some Hyde Park and West Campus residents found a new – and likely unwelcome – lawn sign in their yards last week. The signs, a satirical spin on the Black Lives Matter/Love Is Love signs found around town, read:

"In this house we support/ The working poor/ But they should live elsewhere/ Affordable Housing/ Is a nice idea, but it/ Would ruin our neighborhood/

We care but not that much (or #Dont Touch My/ Property Values)/ #Priorities #Liberal #NoCodeNEXT"

They've been spotted next to signs supporting Laura Morrison (who initially ran against CodeNEXT, the city's now-failed land use code rewrite) and Prop J (the ballot initiative to make the next comprehensive zoning code rewrite subject to a waiting period and popular vote). No one has claimed responsibility for the signs, but they seem to be vanishing just as fast as they appeared...

No, He Just Worked There: A pro-Vincent Harding mailer raised some District 1 eyebrows this weekend, as it shows the former Travis County Democratic Party chair standing at a podium featuring the party logo at a party event, with text evoking his experience "building coalitions" among Travis Dems. (The mailer appears targeted to active Democratic voters – of whom there are many in D1 – with a list of prominent party endorsers.) The TCDP itself, though, has neither endorsed Harding (or any other City Council candidate) nor paid for the mailer, which has a clear enough disclaimer from the Harding campaign. Both Harding and his successor as TCDP chair, Dyana Limon-Mercado, confirmed there's no funny business going on here; TCDP has endorsed Austin ISD Place 4 candidate Zachary Price and Austin Community College incumbent Julie Ann Nitsch...

It Helps to Stay on Message: Two different, pretty nasty but strangely inept mailers hit District 9 mailboxes on Tuesday, slamming incumbent Kathie Tovo as "A Career Politician Fighting for Herself" with the same three bullet points:

• Tovo voted against raising the homestead exemption (which, since she's a homeowner, was a vote against her own interests and for the 60% of D9 residents who rent);

• Tovo "worked to bypass" the Council's term-limit rule by petitioning to run for a third term (which is itself part of the term-limit rule); and,

• Tovo was late paying her property taxes, and paid a penalty fee for it (which is, what?).

Tovo challenger Danielle Skidmore, many of whose own fans oppose raising the homestead exemption, appears in one mailer but not the other (which ties Tovo's opposition to Water Treatment Plant 4, approved before she was elected, to the recent aquapocalypse). The mailers are from the Center for Austin's Future PAC, whose "mission is to identify, educate and support strong, accountable elected leaders." The group's founder is former Real Estate Council of Austin president Ward Tisdale; its PAC is funded by various real estate interests, and its advisory board includes ex-mayors Lee Cooke, Bruce Todd, and Lee Leffingwell and ex-Council Members Brewster McCracken, Randi Shade, and Chris Riley – the latter two having lost to Tovo in her previous runs. (Riley, who was on Council at the time, also opposed WTP4.) Skidmore is the first graduate of the Center's ATXelerator™ program, which "recruits and trains community leaders interested in running for city council," to actually make the run.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

November 2018 election, eSlate, early voting, Laura Morrison, Wally Kinney, Texas Civil Rights Project, Vincent Harding, Steve Adler

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