Election Ticker: Wading Into the Final Week of Early Voting

Serenity now! Ahead of Election Day

The first day of early voting (Oct. 13) in Travis County at Dottie Jordan Recreation Center (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Serenity Now! For Texas Dems

Amid the state's record-breaking early voter turnout ahead of the Nov. 3 election, Seinfeld's Julia Louis-­Drey­fus (Elaine Benes), Jason Alexander (George Cos­tanza), and co-creator Larry David (a prett-ay prett-ay good addition) will host a virtual fundraiser for the Texas Democratic Party this Friday night, Oct. 23, in hopes of turning Texas blue. Texas leads the country in early voting numbers, with more than 4 million ballots cast in the Texas 2020 presidential election so far. Hosted by Seth Meyers of Late Night, the "Fundraiser About Something" starts at 7pm (with a VIP reception at 6:30pm) and promises other special guests. Any TDP donation amount snags you a ticket to the online-only event. See here for more. – Mary Tuma

Abbott Wades Into a Blue Wave

With odds steadily increasing that Democrats will grab control of the Texas House of Representatives for the first time since 2002, Gov. Greg Abbott is spending a bit of his $38 million campaign war chest to help embattled GOP legislators and target vulnerable freshman Dems, including four from the Austin area. Speak­ing with the Texas Tribune, Abbott strategist Dave Car­ney said the "mid-seven-figures" spend includes digital ads in each district aimed at mobilizing, or at least holding on to, more than one million voters who they know back the governor – which, at the moment, not every Repub­lican does. Abbott is also spending to help state judicial candidates avoid the Bluenami; Democratic campaigns cited the move as one of many sure signs that the red team knows it's losing. (More on flipping the House in "Austin at Large." ) – Mike Clark-Madison

A Third Strike Against Williams?

U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Weatherford, whose weirdass district includes a big chunk of Central Texas, has for the third time in his four terms been caught in a sketchy-at-best ethical episode. The Houston Chronicle broke the story that Williams, who sits on the House Financial Services Committee, leaned on UMB Bank to schedule talks with a friend and major Williams donor working through a business bankruptcy; UMB's lawyer testified under oath that the congressman suggested he could make the bank's life difficult if it failed to play ball with his buddy. Both Williams and the donor disagree with this characterization, but it's not a good look for an incumbent who's been nailed twice for using his pull to help out his chain of car dealerships. Williams is locked in a tight race with Julie Oliver. – M.C.M.

Council Members Endorse Chincanchan

Council Members Greg Casar, Natasha Harper-Madison, and Pio Renteria have all endorsed David Chincanchan in his bid to succeed Delia Garza as the District 2 CM. In a joint announcement on Facebook, the three CMs pointed to Chincanchan's track record in advocating for progressive policy as an aide to Renteria. José Garza, likely to be the next Travis County district attorney and rising star in the world of progressive justice reform, also announced his endorsement of Chincanchan.

City Council District 2 Candidate David Chincanchan (Photo by John Anderson)

The trio of incumbent Council endorsements (CM Ann Kitchen has contributed to Chincanchan's campaign, but was not part of the announcement) adds to the Southeast Austin native's long list of endorsements, but the other leading candidate in the D2 race, Vanessa Fuentes, has campaigned on her City Hall-outsider status as a virtue. – Austin Sanders

Travis GOP Goes Maskless

The Travis County Republican Party hosted a "Back the Blue" campaign event at the Broken Spoke on Saturday, Oct. 17, with local Republicans crammed into the iconic venue and very little mask-wearing to be seen. Based on photos and videos shared online, local candidates at the event included TX-25 incumbent Roger Williams (see left); freshman U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Dripping Springs, who is locked in a tight fight with Wendy Davis in TX-21; Justin Berry, challenging Vikki Goodwin in Texas House District 47 in western Travis County; Raul Vargas (misidentified as Raul Garza in an official TCRP tweet), running against Sally Her­nan­dez for Travis County sheriff; and Louis Herrin III and Mackenzie Kelly, both taking on City Council incumbents. Props to Kelly for wearing a mask, unlike the other candidates, as COVID-19 cases begin to creep up again. (Davis has a TV ad devoted entirely to Roy's mask-free lifestyle and dangerous views on COVID-19.) – A.S.

Money Flows in AISD Races

Going into the last week of early voting, candidates for the Austin ISD Board of Trustees may still be capable of a final financial push. In the finance reports filed Oct. 5, a month before the election, the candidates had raised over $150,000 in donations – and, combined, still had over $130,000 available to spend. Races in West Austin's District 5 and At-Large Position 8 garnered the most donations. Candidates for the District 5 seat took in $84,107, including the biggest raiser of any race, Piper Stege Nelson, who garnered over $45,000. The documents showed donations from current trustees, including Place 8's Cindy Anderson and District 5's Amber Elenz (both being replaced in this election), and Place 9 Trustee Arati Singh, who donated to both Noelita Lugo and Jared Breckenridge in Place 8. Education Austin also sent thousands of dollars to its endorsed candidates. – Clara Ence Morse

Following Gov. Abbott's order, the tax office at 5501 Airport Blvd. is the only location in Travis County where voters can hand-deliver their mail-in ballots. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Travis County Judge Blocks Abbott’s Order Limiting Ballot Delivery Sites

A Travis County judge has blocked Governor Greg Abbott's proclamation limiting ballot delivery sites to one location per county. On Oct. 15, Judge Tim Sulak of the 353rd District Court granted a temporary injunction in a lawsuit filed two weeks ago in Travis County district court by Anti-Defamation League Austin, Common Cause Texas, and Texas voter Robert Ketsch arguing that Abbott's Oct. 1 order – which forced Travis and Harris counties to close multiple ballot delivery locations – violates state law and the Texas Constitution.

Sulak's ruling came just days after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Abbott's order after overturning a lower court's ruling in a parallel but separate lawsuit filed in federal court. "The limitation to a single drop-off location for mail ballots would likely needlessly and unreasonably increase risks of exposure to COVID-19 infections, and needlessly and unreasonably substantially burden potential voters' constitutionally protected rights to vote, as a consequence of increased travel and delays, among other things," wrote Sulak in his decision. Sulak set a hearing for the plaintiffs' request for a permanent injunction for Nov. 9; however, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton quickly filed an appeal that puts Sulak's decision on hold until Texas' 3rd Court of Appeals reviews it. – Beth Sullivan

Speaking of Ballots ...

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Texas election officials – if unable to verify signatures on mail-in ballots – may continue to reject those ballots without notifying voters until after the election that their ballot wasn't counted. The decision, which was handed down Mon., Oct. 19, blocks a lower court's injunction that would have required local election officials to create a system notifying voters in time to challenge their ballot rejection. In Texas, local election officials are tasked with verifying that the signature on the ballot envelope matches the signature on the voter's corresponding vote-by-mail application before counting the ballot.

Two Texas voters whose mail-in ballots were rejected over perceived mismatched signatures had filed the lawsuit last year, arguing that the state law on mail-in ballot signatures violated the 14th Amendment. Accord­ing to the Texas Election Code, voters must be notified within 10 days after the election that their ballot wasn't counted, though the code neither offers guidelines for signature review nor grants voters the opportunity to challenge a mail-in ballot rejection. – B.S.

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November 2020 Election, Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, Larry David, Texas Democratic Party, Seth Meyers, Texas House of Representatives, Greg Abbott, Dave Carney, Roger Williams, House Financial Services Committee, UMB Bank, Julie Oliver, David Chincanchan, Vanessa Fuentes, Greg Casar, Natasha Harper-Madison, Pio Renteria, City Council

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