Tales From Early Voting and More Before the July 14 Election

Last-minute jostling before election day

The District Attorney's Race: challenger José Garza (l) and incumbent Margaret Moore (Photos by Jana Birchum)

Dispatches From Early Voting

As of July 7, early voting turnout in Travis County stands at close to 7% of registered voters, including 44,686 people who have voted in person, plus 13,103 mail-in ballots. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeau­voir anticipates final turnout will reach about 15%. "In some ways this looks more like a normal presidential [election] rather than a primary run-off in the middle of a pandemic," DeBeauvoir told the Chronicle. In non-COVID times, the County Clerk's Office typically receives around 1,000-2,000 mail-in ballot applications for primary run-off elections, according to an office press release; this election's 32,000 VBM applications have now surpassed the county's record 31,000 requests.

Still, despite what DeBeauvoir calls an "absolutely huge turnout," early voting hasn't come without its hiccups. Confusion over how to fill out the VBM application has led to some Travis County voters reporting not receiving primary run-off races on their ballot. On Monday, the County Clerk's Office sent out an explainer to clarify what people should do if they experience such issues.

"I think voters got tricked," said DeBeau­voir, pointing to how confusing the ballot application can be. "Voting by mail is not and never has been voter friendly. It is a last-ditch effort on part of election law to make sure that the voter gets the chance to vote. It's complicated and I can certainly understand where voters, especially if you have no experience with it before, are confused." Out of the 32,000 mail-in ballot applications the Clerk's Office has received, DeBeauvoir estimated approximately 4,600 "have made mistakes that have caused some disruption in their ballot" for various reasons. Asked whether her office has reached out to the Secretary of State's Office for any guidance with some of this ballot confusion, DeBeau­voir told the Chronicle, "Of course I did, and they shot me down. But I don't want to say too much about it right now." – Beth Sullivan

Less for Moore

The heated Travis County District Attor­ney run-off between incumbent Margaret Moore and challenger José Garza (who finished ahead of Moore in the first round back in March) has attracted attention far beyond Austin, much of it benefiting Garza. He's been endorsed by Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Julián and Joaquin Castro, and last week picked up the nod of musician and justice activist John Legend. Such support is reflected in the finances of the race, and Moore's campaign on Wednesday blasted such efforts to "buy the District Attorney's Office ... Garza was recruited, bankrolled, and is funded almost entirely from out-of-state" – in presumed reference to his support from the Real Justice PAC.

One group whose support could help Moore push back – Annie's List, devoted to helping elect progressive women in Texas – has not issued an endorsement for D.A. Four years ago, Annie's List endorsed both Moore and Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, and the group includes both on its website in its tally of victories. Moore campaign spokesperson Jovita Pardo told the Chronicle that Annie's List reached out to the campaign (and also to Hernandez, who won her primary in March) at its onset to "let us know that the focus for the 2020 election cycle was turning the Texas House blue," said Pardo. "That is an admirable goal, and one we ­support."

"All Annie's List Champions are reconsidered for endorsement on a cycle basis," Annie's List Executive Director Royce Brooks told us in a statement. "The endorsement process is conducted by the Annie's List Board of Directors and, among other criteria, includes examining how our elected officials are practicing our organization's values." That's a reference to six specific commitments Annie's List asks of candidates, one of which is "preventing violence against women and children and assisting survivors." Moore and Hernandez have both been put on the defensive this cycle by challengers and advocates highly critical of their handling of sexual assault cases and issues. (For more context, see an op-ed penned by plaintiffs in ongoing sexual assault lawsuits against the D.A.'s Office and other Travis County entities.)

"It became clear that there are reasons for electing those women that go far beyond just increasing the numbers of women serving. It's about the impact that these candidates and officeholders have on people's lives." The values, said Brooks, "are our way of being explicit about the change that Annie's List is fighting to make for Texans by electing women who will fight for our communities." – Sarah Marloff

Speaking of Endorsements

A group of prominent criminal justice advocates have banded together to endorse three candidates on the ballot in Democratic primary run-off races. Austin Voters for Reimag­ining Justice announced on Monday support for Delia Garza in the county attorney race, Josè Garza for district attorney, and Mike Siegel in CD 10.

The group is co-chaired by two of Austin's most respected activists: Amanda Lewis of the Survivor Justice Project and Chris Harris of Texas Appleseed. They are joined by Texas Fair Defense Project attorney Emily Gerrick; Austin Justice Coalition Strategic Planning Director Sukyi McMahon; Maya Pilgrim from Communities of Color United, which has long advocated for reducing the police budget in Austin; Scott Hen­son, aka Grits4Break­fast, the OG of the group; and Dominic Selvera, who ran for C.A. on a left platform of staunch abolitionism.

None of the people are participating as a representative of the groups they are affiliated with; rather, they are using their stature as leading voices in the local dialogue on criminal justice reform to inform voters on who they see as the candidates most likely to advance reform. The idea behind the formation of the group, which does not intend to formalize as a political action committee, is to present voters with candidate endorsements from a Black-led group focused on transformational criminal justice reform. "We prioritize shrinking the criminal legal system and its negative impact on the lives of people of color, the working class, and other people marginalized by the status quo," Lewis said in a news release of the group's overall goal. – Austin Sanders

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July 2020 Elections, Dana DeBeauvoir, vote by mail, VBM, Margaret Moore, Annie's List, Royce Brooks, Jose Garza, Real Justice PAC, Austin Voters for Reimagining Justice

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