Texas early voting numbers lower than expected

Texas early voting numbers were lower in the state’s three special elections than anticipated. In Harris County alone, about 164,000 people cast a ballot early.

About, 15,000 people voted by mail with the rest voting in person. On Nov. 1, the last day of early voting, 34,000 people showed up to cast their ballot in Harris County. The turnout represents about 6.5 percent of Harris County’s more than 2.3 million registered voters.

This year’s turnout is significantly less than in 2015 — the last time  Houston’s mayor was on the ballot — when 9.4 percent of the Houston electorate came out to vote. However, slightly more people came out this year than in 2013, when only 5.6 percent of the city’s voters went to the polls.

Because this is an off-year election, turnout is expected to be lower. In 2018, 1.2 million people of Harris County’s voters cast ballots. This year, about 54 percent of people who cast a ballot had previously voted in a Democratic primary. 

Another 34 percent of the voters had voted in a Republican primary. About 55 percent of early voters were white and 28 percent were black. 

The racial dynamics could mean that the Houston mayoral race goes to a runoff. Although the main draw on the Houston ballot was the mayoral election, it wasn’t the only dance on the card.

Also on the ballot were 16 city council races, the city controller’s race, and various city council, and independent school district trustee elections around the county. 

Additionally, some Harris County voters will cast ballots in the special election to replace longtime Texas House Democrat Jessica Farrar, as the representative for Texas House District 148. Farrar stepped down from the Legislature in October. 

The race for HD-148 has attracted 15 candidates. The large number of candidates has made a runoff election an almost certainty. In the event of a runoff, Texas early voting will be introduced for the next election.

Voters within Houston Metro’s 14-city and unincorporated Harris County service area will decide whether or not the transportation agency can offer $3.5 billion in bonds. The offer will support Metro’s $7.5 billion long-range transportation plan. 

In Fort Bend County, the headline election is the race to replace Texas’ former chief budget writer John Zerwas in HD-28. About 14,000 people have voted early in HD-28, overall 59,295 people have voted early across the county.

Only 1,939 people voted by mail. Political insiders estimate that 54 percent of people who voted early were Republicans, 23 percent had voted Democrat in the past and another 23 percent identified as Independents.  

Fort Bend County has about 430,000 registered voters, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office. The race for HD-28 has attracted six candidates — five Republicans and one Democrat. Experts believe that HD-28 will most likely go to a runoff election. 

In Dallas, the election that has attracted the attention of the political class is the race for HD-100. The seat became vacant when Eric Johnson resigned to run for mayor of Dallas, a race he ultimately won. 

Despite the interest from Texas’ politicos, the turnout in HD-100 has been low. Out of the district’s approximately 87,000 eligible voters, only about 2,500 have cast ballots. Only 423 people voted by mail. 

Across Dallas County, 33,1352 people have cast ballots in person. Another 5,541 early voted by mail. Dallas County has about 1.3 million registered voters. Texas early voting ended on Friday, Nov. 1.


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Texas Constables under review

Texas constables

By CHRISTOPHER ADAMS

As many states and counties around the nation reconsider the scope and validity of the constable, Texas has held firm in retaining the traditional law enforcement office.

A constitutionally-mandated position in the Lone Star State, the constable is simultaneously ubiquitous and invisible.

“Constables are still relevant today,” wrote Rick Bacon, Precinct 3 Commissioner in Tom Green County, in an email to Reform Austin. “They perform a function that the sheriff’s department can’t.”

Bacon indicated that constables in his county deliver papers pertaining to child support payments and the attorney general’s office, oversee the public nuisance program and are the bailiffs in the justice of the peace courts.

He wrote that it wouldn’t make fiscal sense to merge Texas constables into the sheriff’s department.

“In Tom Green County, the constables do not have administrative staff,” he wrote. “They must take care of their own administrative functions. The sheriff would have to hire additional deputies to assume the duties of the constable.”

What do constables do?

Harris County constables perform a wider range of tasks than their Tom Green counterparts. In particular, patrol duty.

A 2018 Rice University/Kinder Institute for Urban Research study on Harris County Law Enforcement reported that the sheriff’s office and constables overlapped in their patrol responsibilities.

The report suggested the entities consolidate duties that could provide service equity and allow for administrative cost savings as well.

But not every county or resident continues to be sold on these licensed peace officers who primarily act as a service arm for the justice of the peace courts. Some are evaluating the necessity and financial viability of the elected position in a 2019 society—three counties have already eliminated constables.

One example is El Paso County. They’re taking a look at both constables and justices of the peace. 

El Paso County Precinct 2 Commissioner David Stout said they’re looking at possibly reducing the number of justices of the peace and constables but it’s difficult to determine if constables are a tax burden because they issue citations, serve warrants and perform other various services that generate revenue.

The county is currently conducting an internal study to answer questions that could help it make future decisions regarding constables and justices of the peace.

Their constable’s function as bailiffs for justice of the peace courts, serve warrants, issue citations and work on writs.

“We’re trying to be as efficient as possible and we want performance-based outcomes and performance-based budgeting and so we decided we need to look at them and understand what they’re doing and how much they’re doing and whether it’s efficient and how we can measure them,” Stout said.

‘Constables are relics of the past’

A recent op-ed piece in the San Antonio Express-News called for the dissolution of constables stating Bexar County could do without them.  

“Taxpayers are paying millions of dollars for four stand-alone law enforcement offices that share jurisdiction with multiple other agencies and whose purpose has come and gone. Constables are relics of the past,” the article stated.

It wasn’t the first time that the Express-News’ editorial board spoke out against constables. The editorial board of the San Antonio Express-News isn’t the only group in Bexar County that wants to eliminate constables. In a September press conference, County Judge Nelson Wolff called for the removal of all constables in Bexar County.

“If it was up to me, there wouldn’t be one constable left in this county or anywhere else,” Wolff said. Wolff’s comment was prompted by an FBI raid on the Precinct 2 Constable’s Office.

And El Paso County could end up being the fourth county to abolish the historic law enforcement position.

“I haven’t heard any talk about eliminating them completely,” Stout commented. “Once we have more information it could be a route that we take.”

Of course, votgers would have to decide on the removal of constables in El Paso Cou.nty amending the state constitution.

Texas mass violence committee talks video games and masks, again

By ALEX WUKMAN

A Texas mass violence committee held a hearing in Austin on Oct. 30. The Texas Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety met in Austin.

The committee was created in the days following the El Paso and Odessa shootings in August. Since the committee’s inception, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has charged it with investigating a wide range of issues — most only tangentially related to mass violence. 

During the meeting, witnesses testified about the role social media, the dark web and “overall culture issues” play in the promotion of mass violence.

The witness list included Col. Steve McCraw, Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. McCraw claimed that most mass shooters are “lone actors with quick access to weapons.” 

He also told the committee that many of the killers want fame and that social media allows killers to gain fame. The two biggest concerns, according to McCraw, are mass shooters posting manifestos and live streaming their attacks. 

After McCraw’s testimony, the committee heard from Tau Braun, director of the Violence Prevention Agency — a consulting firm. Braun testified that the battle royale game Fortnite, which makes $2 million per day, is a “death simulator for 6-year-olds.” He stated his belief that parents would not let their children play a game that encourages killing if it “didn’t have music and cute characters.”

Science finds no relation between mass violence and video games

During his testimony, Braun acknowledged that there isn’t a direct link between young children playing violent video games and engaging in violent behavior.

Instead of adopting new laws to address mass violence, Braun called for a culture shift. State Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) questioned Braun’s assertions.

Zaffrini pointed to Japan, where the discrepancy between the sale of violent video games and violent crime is pronounced. 

“I read that in Japan, there are many many more violent video games than in the United States,” Zaffrini said, according to KVUE. “In Japan, between 2009 and 2017, there were only 44 deaths by gun. But in the United States, in 2017 alone, there were 42 gun deaths daily.”

Although it is unclear where Zaffrini sourced her information, research from the Washington Post corroborates her statement. 

In 2012, the Washington Post studied the 10 largest video game markets in the world and found that both South Korea and the Netherlands spent more on video games, per capita than the United States.

However, both countries had a substantially lower gun-related murder rate. At the time of the study, U.S. citizens spent about $50 per person on video games, and the country experienced more than 300,000 gun-related homicides per year.

Comparatively, the Netherlands spent about $110 per person on video games and had less than 50,000 firearm-related murders per year.  Braun went on to expand his discussion into how children might confuse video games with real life. 

He added that putting someone who can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality into a game that encourages killing could “be extremely problematic.”

However, Braun’s testimony is contradicted by the research of Professor Jacqueline Woolley at the University of Texas’s Department of Psychology. Wooley studies child development, specifically how children make the distinction between what is real and what fantasy.

By the age of three children can understand the difference between real and fantasy. Over time, they use contextual clues to make judgments about figments like unicorns and Santa Claus, according to Woolley’s research

Woolley’s team was able to determine that children as young as five years old can make clear distinctions between reality and fiction. However, they “have a bias toward assuming that television is unreal,” Woolley wrote. Braun’s testimony and the committee’s charges were challenged by gun control activists. 

Gyl Switzer from Texas Gun Sense called the discussion about video games the “red herring in this whole discussion.”  She pointed out that legislators have reacted to various media — from movies to music to comic books to video games. Despite the multiple rating boards and self-policing policies, outbreaks of mass violence still occur — Switzer added.

Along with video games, Patrick also asked the committee to consider outlawing masks. The nine state senators were tasked with exploring the relationship between face coverings and violent behavior.  

Although Texas currently allows the wearing of masks in public, 10 U.S. states do not. Additionally, a controversial anti-mask law recently inflamed protesters in Hong Kong.

The committee also heard from law enforcement officers, some of whom testified that masks make criminals more brazen. In a memorable exchange, Sergeant Larry Gibson of the Houston Police Department told the committee that “robbers wear masks.”

When Patrick issued his mandate he required the committee consider the First Amendment implications of an anti-mask law.

The Texas Senate Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence is scheduled to hold its next meeting on Dec. 4. Additionally, the Texas House Select Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety will meet on Thursday.