Election Ticker: Final Laps Before E-Day
Countdown to Super Tuesday begins
Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir sounded a bit giddy Monday afternoon, asked about early voting in both the Democratic and Republican primary elections. "As of today, we're breaking turnout records," she said. "In 2016, the presidential primary, there were a little more than 90,000 that voted early. In 2018, for the [midterm] primary ... a little more than 80,000 voted. We are headed to break both those numbers ... we could be headed to 100,000 by the close of early voting." Through Tuesday, 64,447 people had voted in Travis County (just over 7.8% of registered voters). DeBeauvoir said the county's high voter registration numbers skew the turnout percentages somewhat, but that (for example) a 16% final percentage of registered voters would mean an early voting turnout of more than 131,000. "That would certainly break all the records, and sets us up for three-in-a-row record-breaking turnout."
Asked about the "fleeing voter" problem that led to a late-night rescanning of many boxes in the November general election (meaning delayed results), DeBeauvoir says that will not happen this go-around. A handful of November voters "fled" the polls with their marked ballots (a familiar nuisance with paper ballots) rather than depositing them in the scanner that actually registers the votes ("'Fleeing Voters' Delay Travis County Count," Nov. 6, 2019). A 1991 law governing an earlier paper voting system previously mandated rescanning the already-scanned ballots, producing the same result (but several hours later). DeBeauvoir says the secretary of state has agreed that under the new system, such rescanning is unnecessary. "The old law said you have to count it twice," DeBeauvoir said. "We can still track the number of 'fleeing voters' [i.e., the difference between voter check-ins and scanned ballots], but it's silly to count the same ballots twice." In theory, that should mean results both more accurate and timely, with the added security of marked paper ballots should a hand-recount ever be necessary. "Voters love their paper trail," said DeBeauvoir.
Morrow Rises Again
"Anybody but Morrow" is the refrain in the Republican primary for the State Board of Education, where GOP outlier Robert "Half-Cracked" Morrow is running to succeed retiring incumbent Ken Mercer in District 5, which includes most of South Austin while stretching out far into the Hill Country, up to San Saba County, and down to the San Antonio suburbs. Chronicle readers should be familiar with Morrow's incendiary history ("GOP Ousts Robert Morrow? Maybe." Aug. 25, 2016), and he's been a self-fertilized thorn in the Travis County Republican Party's side for quite a while. The party's primary candidate website features a warning – "TCRP recommends not voting for" Morrow – and in January its executive committee issued a formal resolution opposing his candidacy for his "history of vulgar and misogynist language" and his habit of accusing GOP leaders (and others) he doesn't like of being rapists and child molesters. The party is hoping down ballot voters will choose either Mercer endorsee Lani Popp or "family-first conservative" Inga Cotton. (In the Dem primary, the Chronicle has endorsed Texas State prof. Rebecca Bell-Metereau, who nearly beat Mercer in 2016.)
Return of the Zimmerman
The Ticker hasn't devoted much space to the GOP primary, largely because the TCRP is mostly moribund, at least within the Austin city limits. (Becky Bray, the GOP candidate to succeed last-local-R Gerald Daugherty on the Travis County Commissioners Court, is unopposed in the primary.) A few races are worth watching, such as the wrestling match to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Bill Flores in TX-17, which includes a slice of North Austin in its Waco-to-Bryan terrain. That race has drawn no fewer than 11 contestants to challenge the comeback plans of carpetbagging former Dallas Rep. Pete Sessions (defeated in TX-32 in 2018), at least half of whom appear to have the resources to force Sessions (who Flores has pointedly not endorsed) into, or even out of, a run-off. And in Texas House District 47, five Republicans – Austin "Cop" Justin Berry; oil and gas lawyer Jennifer Fleck; "Mommy, Wife, Christian, Attorney" Jenny Roan Forgey; administrative litigator and activist Aaron Reitz; and former Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman – are competing to challenge incumbent Rep. Vikki Goodwin in what is still described as a "swing" district. (Among other things, Zimmerman advocates diverting mass transit funding to build more suburban highways, and constraining local government as much as possible.) We wish GOP voters the best ... or the least worst.
Campaign Seasonal Allergies
In the follow-up to our report last week about concentrated craziness in the County Court at Law No. 4 campaign ("A Numbers Game in County Court at Law No. 4," Feb. 21), arguments blew up on social media, and some defense attorneys who practice in the court reached out to the Chronicle from all sides. Some criticized incumbent Judge Dimple Malhotra as likely biased because she was formerly a family violence prosecutor ("How can she be fair?"). Others blamed her previous prosecutorial tenure in CCL4 (2006-16) as partly responsible for its notorious backlog of cases, which she has reduced by more than 20% since being appointed to the bench in early November. But more defended Malhotra and her commitment to doing the necessary work and pointed out that she has exhibited judicial fairness in handling cases between (as delicately defined) "complaining witnesses" and those "accused." Another defense attorney who has faced Malhotra as a prosecutor described her as "always ... an even-tempered individual who has displayed a passion for justice." Malhotra defends her brief current record as focusing on the need to reorganize CCL4, saying her success thus far is a combination of a "new system" and "greater resources" provided by the County Attorney's Office. Her defense attorney detractors? "A concerted effort by a few angry people."