Results Are In: Birabil Defeats Armstrong III in Texas House District 100 Runoff Special Election

Dallas County House District 100 runoff special election came to a close Tuesday night with Democrat Lorraine Birabil on top. 

Political operative Lorraine Birabil won the runoff for House District 100, receiving 1,643 votes (66.3 percent) against pastor James Armstrong III, who received 836 votes (33.7 percent).

Voter turnout in the special election was sparse; in fact, it was the second lowest turnout of any special election runoff. Just 2,479 (2.9 percent) of House District 100’s 86,827 registered voters cast a ballot in the election. 396 voters (16 percent) cast their ballot by mail, while 766 (30.9 percent) voted early in person. 1,317 voters (53.1 percent) cast their ballots on Election Day – Tuesday, January 28.

The special election was first called by Gov. Greg Abbott to replace former State Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) after he won the Dallas mayoral race last May.
Once Birabil is sworn in with the two other special election runoff winners in Fort Bend and Harris County, the House complement of members will be brought to 150, with 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats.

Birabil will be back on the ballot for the March 3 Democratic primary for House District 100. She will face James Armstrong III again in addition to attorney Jasmine Crockett, attorney Paul Stafford, Dallas business owner Daniel Clayton, former aide to Rep. Toni Rose, and former Dallas City Councilwoman Sandra Crenshaw, the latter two of whom ran in the first round of the special election. Whoever wins the March primary will automatically become State Rep., as there were only Democrats who filed.

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Results Are In: Eastman Defeats LaRotta in Texas House District 148 Runoff Special Election

The Harris County House District 148 runoff special election came to a close Tuesday night with Democrat Anna Eastman on top. 

Democrat and former Houston ISD Trustee Anna Eastman won the runoff for House District 148, receiving 4,527 votes (65.5 percent) against Republican small business owner Luis LaRotta, who received 2,388 votes (34.5 percent).

Voter turnout in the special election was sparse. Just 6,915 (7.8 percent) of House District 148’s 89,225 registered voters cast a ballot in the election, with 1,326 voters (19.2 percent) casting their ballot by mail, while 1,831 (26.5 percent) voted early in person. On Election Day, Tuesday, January 28, 3,758 voters (54.3 percent) cast their ballots.

The special election was first called by Gov. Greg Abbott to replace Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) after she resigned last September.

Once Eastman is sworn in with the two other special election runoff winners in Fort Bend and Dallas, the House complement of members will be brought to 150, with 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats.

Eastman will be back on the ballot for the March 3 Democratic primary for House District 148. She will face Business Development Manager Emily Wolf, former 2019 Houston City Council candidate Cynthia Reyes-Revilla, former 2018 Harris County Commissioner candidate Court Penny Shaw, and paralegal Adrian Garcia, the latter two of whom ran in the first round of the special election. Whoever wins that primary will face Republican Luis LaRotta on November 3.

For more reporting on elections check out Reform Austin on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Safeguarding the Vote: How Texas Plans to Keep Votes Safe

By Christopher Adams

This election season, intelligence officials and analysts security have warned about expected attempts to interfere in U.S. elections by Russian State Security Services, Chinese Intelligence, and Iranian hackers — the latter becoming more of a concern in the wake of the Gen. Qassem Soleimani assassination.

Experts believe these countries’ intelligence communities are capable of infiltrating, penetrating and subverting American electronic/digital society, as Russian interference in the 2016 election proved.

States caught asleep at the polling booth this year risk a slate of election disasters. And the proverbial elephant — or donkey — in the elections discussion room has centered on the best voting method: paper or paperless? But that’s not the only question to be answered for those worried about interference in what is likely to be a consequential election year.

Concerned Texans might wonder: what is the state doing about safeguarding the 2020 vote?

In 2018, the federal government allocated $380 million via grants for state and local elections. The funds were for the enhancement of election security protocols. Last month, Congress approved an additional $425 million. 

Val Verde County, along the Rio Grande, hasn’t seen any of that funding.

“The Secretary of State had been given a lot of money from the feds and so we figured — wrong assumption — that it would somehow trickle down to us,” said Val Verde County Clerk Janie Gracia-Ramon in an interview with Reform Austin.

The county has been using the same election equipment since 2004 and would like to upgrade. But Gracia-Ramon said they aren’t too worried about cybersecurity threats. Their machines aren’t connected to the internet and they developed an effective protocol that has been in place for quite a while.

“The election process that we have, we’ve been doing it for so long I’m not really worried. I’m not really worried about somebody coming in…hacking us,” she said. “I think it’s procedure. You do it, you repeat it. If it works you keep doing it.”

Politico stated in a recent article that major election security issues plague Texas. Gracia-Ramon believes the Texas Secretary of State has been very helpful and has done a good job of getting in front of potential cybersecurity threats. 

“The Secretary of State’s election division has really been on top of this security issue,” said Cinde Weatherby, voting rights and election law issues chair for the League of Women Voters of Texas, in a phone interview with Reform Austin. “We may argue with them about things from time to time, but in this instance, the director of the elections division, Keith Ingram, is very well educated on the subject. Really plugged into developing a good audit system for all the counties.”

A bill that would require paper ballots stalled in the last legislative session, as reported by Politico, but many counties are seeking to convert to paper systems. 

More than 100 Texas counties have purchased new voting equipment since 2016 and “it is worth noting that counties have trended towards purchasing paper-based voting systems, and our office anticipates the majority of Texas voters to be on paper based voting systems by the 2020 general election,” wrote Stephen Chang, director of communications for the Office of the Secretary of State, in an email statement sent to Reform Austin.

According to Politico, officials in 69 counties indicated they were retaining paperless machines — whether keeping old machines or purchasing new ones — and several counties would not be upgrading until the legislature mandates it. 

Election Systems & Software — which Val Verde County uses — has declared that it will cease selling paperless electronic systems as the main voting machine in any jurisdiction, and is urging the required use of paper ballots and the implementation of higher security standards, according to reporting in Ars Technica.

Ars Technica further noted that states are shifting to voter-marked, optical-scan ballots which can be counted by machine or hand, in case of accusations of machine-count inaccuracies. 

Making certain that paper-based machines are the chosen voting method isn’t where security efforts end, a recent Politico article stated. The article said, “Equally important is preventing malfunctions or hacking in scattered low-population counties that could undermine confidence statewide.”

Weatherby doesn’t feel that paper-based or paperless machines are really at risk.

“Most election equipment is not connected to the internet in any way,” she said. “In the past, there have been some instances where some of the equipment providers have programmed equipment using some sort of internet connection, but that is being consistently eliminated.”

Despite the 2019 ransomware attacks that wreaked havoc on the services of small Texas municipalities, there is optimism that security in the 2020 elections won’t be compromised by state-sponsored cyber-terrorists or lone wolves.  

“I think that we have a lot of confidence that things are moving in the right direction,” Weatherby assured.