There are lots and lots of think pieces about the disastrous November 2014 general election, both with respect to the outcome in Texas and in the United States as a whole. When I say that the election was “disastrous,” I want my meaning to be clear – the overwhelming victories accorded to well-funded conservatives in this election cycle presage years of needless human misery and suffering, no matter what victories ordinary people may ultimately wrest from the plutocrats. Suffering is the price we pay for sliding further into the grim age of the corporate state, and recompense for that suffering (which must inevitably be paid for with blood, in French Revolutions and other terrible ways, as James Anthony Froude was wont to say), will only add to the agony.
It turns out that when money votes, one gets the kind of result that one would expect from an inanimate object with political opinions. The results tend to be inhuman and buoyed up by the sorts of self-justifications and myths that only make sense to things that don’t have central nervous systems.
With respect to second-guessing and dissing Democratic Party GOTV efforts, I think Charles Kuffner’s analysis is better and more on-the-nose than most of the other political reporters in the State. His review of turnout and comparisons with the 2010 gubernatorial election help counter the popular narrative that the 2014 disaster in Texas was solely the result of errors and missteps by Battleground Texas.
Given the collapse of Democratic Party efforts outside of Texas, involving candidates and races supported by other fundraising and campaign organizations that weren’t Battleground Texas, it’s clear that the 2014 election outcome in Texas was not an outlier, or the result of some terrible gaffe or strategic misstep peculiar to the Texas elections.
Battleground Texas demonstrated that concerted efforts did improve Democratic Party candidate outcomes (compared to 2010) in a number of conservative state legislative districts. Among other things, Wendy Davis’s numbers in Tarrant County showed her remarkable strength in a blood-red county, improving on Bill White’s 2010 turnout among Democratic Party voters (and in pouring rain, to boot).
Battleground Texas was extremely good at building a statewide volunteer network, and its volunteers and staff worked very hard to protect voting rights in general. I say this with only a slight whiff of personal bias, given that I did some volunteer work on Election Day for the Battleground Texas Voter Protection Hotline. ;^)
However, (as Mr. Kuffner notes) Battleground Texas is not exempt from criticism for some of its mistakes. In particular, county precinct chairs complained that Battleground Texas used its volunteers ineffectively in some circumstances, with poor and out-of-date precinct voter data, ineffective block-walking efforts, and non-existent or token communication with local Democratic Party officers and candidates. But these are all correctable mistakes that really reflect nothing more than the fresh-faced naivete of itinerant out-of-state campaign runners who lacked experience with regional Texas elections. And despite the mistakes, (as Mr. Kuffner’s review suggested) there are a number of Republican incumbents in the Texas Legislature who are only going to become more vulnerable.
If Battleground Texas had run a flawless campaign, would it have made any difference? The national picture suggests that a comparative analysis of the mountains of dark money pouring into campaigns would have been a far better predictor of outcomes than any other metric, and that the Republican Party candidates gave themselves the best election that money could buy.
Here are a few thoughts on the election, offered up as I process my grief.
1. Um, you do know that there are actual ballots remaining to be counted, right?
One of my frustrations with media treatment of elections is the insatiable need for everyone to know RIGHT NOW exactly what has happened. As things stand, at this very moment, the tally of the election has not been completed, and will not be completed until after the end of the “cure period” for provisional voters who voted without sufficient I.D.
But it was unseemly (to the point of malpractice) for national news outlets to pull the sheet over the Texas body politic and call the time of death WHILE VOTERS WERE STILL IN LINE. There were huge long lines in Tarrant, Dallas, Harris, Travis, and Bexar counties, and many polling places across the state were still processing voters at 8:30 p.m.
So I hear you say, “But Joe, so what? Even if you pretend that every uncounted ballot was for your slate of candidates, it won’t matter. The outcome will be what it is. Why quibble over calling the election at 7:30 p.m. versus calling the election a week from today?”
Because it’s wrong, that’s why. Because elections are complex, multivariate events, where what seem like long shots and unshakeable trends don’t necessarily conform to the selective sampling of early-received precinct totals. Because none of the provisional ballots have been counted yet – the very same provisional ballots that provided some safety net for the voters who may have needed to cure issues with their voter I.D.s, or for the voters who, but for the offer of a provisional ballot, would have been denied an opportunity to correct some misunderstanding or bureaucratic error regarding their registration status.
What all of the news media outlets were doing was insulting to the people whose ballots haven’t been counted yet, because it amounted to a hasty refutation of the very voters who are most poorly served by society in the first place.
Well viewers, with a whopping 2 out of every 100 ballots counted, we can confidently say that among the voters who matter (disproportionately white suburban voters with drivers’ licenses and quiet, uncrowded polling places), the choice is clear. And for those of you still in line (disproportionately minorities, the young and elderly, living in areas where voting equipment and personnel were rationed and throttled), give up, chumps. You could be home watching Matlock reruns and eating cold cat food out of the can.
And for those of you who voted by mail (disproportionately old or disabled), or voted provisionally (disproportionately minorities), or voted from overseas, may we say, uh, we appreciate that you wanted to get a gold sticker for your pathetic attempt to participate in the democratic process, but seriously, who ever believed that we really cared what you thought?
2. Why Concede Before the 10:00 p.m. News?
My advice to the statewide Democratic Party candidates in Texas would have been to delay the concessions until this morning at the earliest. Why on earth would anyone want to hand Greg Abbott additional TV time right in the news cycle sweet spot? It’s an act of submission that benefits no one, and that further erodes the public capacity for patience and delayed gratification.
3. I Keep Waking Up In The Wrong Universe
Seriously, it’s like a Philip K. Dick novel around here.
On Election Day, I did volunteer work on the Battleground Texas Voter Protection Hotline, and I want to thank the Director of Voter Protection for Battleground Texas for her too-kind invitation and encouraging words.
Mimi Marziani, an energetic and unflappable civil rights litigator, voting rights organizer, and unstoppable whirlwind, is still tirelessly hard at work at this moment, helping voters and fighting the fight right now, and was incredibly generous to invite me (a complete stranger!) to help voters. Welcome to Texas, Mimi!
I’d also like to thank all the attorneys and staff in the Statewide Voter Protection Hotline in Fort Worth – (I apologize for not being better with names, but you were all incredibly welcoming, wonderful, kind, hard-working, unflagging, brilliant and brave people), with a special thanks to my fellow voter protection attorney Michael Ybarra for transporting me all the way from Austin to Fort Worth and back.
All the volunteers in the field, at polling places, and at all the regional boiler rooms and the state and national boiler rooms worked fiercely and unwaveringly to defend the rights of voters to cast their ballots, and there are many, many voters across the state who owe a debt of gratitude to these volunteers. Thanks to all of you, and safe travels.
I’ll have no postmortems today, as I don’t approve of the vivisection of an election that hasn’t even been completed yet.
I’ve been quick to criticize the Austin-American Statesman for silly election stories, and so it’s only fair that I should praise them profusely for today’s top story (behind a paywall, alas) – that the Attorney General paid thousands of dollars in state money to anti-abortion activist Vincent Rue, who was a consultant for the State’s defense of its recent anti-abortion law. Veteran political reporter Chuck Lindell has managed to scoop every other state and national news outlet on this story.
In writing about the secret contract between the A.G. and Mr. Rue, Lindell notes that:
[H]iring Rue as a trial consultant backfired when U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel overturned key parts of the state’s sweeping abortion law on Aug. 29, ruling that Rue’s involvement undermined the credibility of the state’s expert witnesses.
Yeakel also admonished Abbott’s office over its strenuous pretrial fight to withhold Rue’s email exchanges from lawyers for abortion providers, writing that he was “dismayed by the considerable efforts the state took to obscure Rue’s level of involvement with the experts.”
According to Rue’s contract, he was an independent contractor who could be paid no more than $40,000, plus expenses. Other documents show he was paid just over $42,000, but a breakdown of expenses wasn’t available.
Other contract provisions enhanced privacy:
• Rue couldn’t issue press releases or make public announcements about his work.
• The document specifies that Rue had a “confidential relationship” with Abbott’s office in connection with the court case.
• No written reports could be generated without prior approval from the office.
The decision not to release the contract to the Statesman came two weeks after state lawyers argued — unsuccessfully — that emails between Rue and the state’s expert witnesses were protected from disclosure.
Lindell, Chuck, “Greg Abbott’s office reveals contract with abortion opponent” (Austin American-Statesman, November 1, 2014) A1, at p. A7.
In part, the story is about open government records and about Abbott’s efforts to deny access to information about how taxpayer money is spent, and in part, it’s about how ideology and money intersect in the demimonde of the extreme right wing.
And of course, it’s partly a story about an election, about timing and news cycles, and about the potential effect that scandalous news has on Election Day voting (the story came out one day after early voting ended in Texas).
Abbott comes off particularly poorly in the story because of his personal supervision and control of the secret contract, and because his cloak-and-dagger tactics were ultimately disastrously damaging to both his and the State’s credibility in court.
In general, scholarly studies of scandal, corruption, and the effect of political controversy on electoral choice have focused on U.S. Congressional elections, because the number, public visibility, and geographic variety of these elections make them popular fodder for academic scrutiny.
Although the methodology and definitions of what constitutes a “scandal” vary, common themes emerge when looking at the literature on this subject.
The studies consistently find that when compared to non-scandal-ridden candidates;
(1) a candidate’s association with a scandal has a material effect on the election outcome, losing the candidate between 5% and 10% of the vote, especially if the scandal is of a nature that fails to benefit the financial interests of voters, and that
(2) when scandals break, they generally prompt an increase in advertising spending by opponents, with a consequent secondary effect on vote outcomes. Peters, J. and S. Welch, The Effects of Charges of Corruption on Voting Behavior in Congressional Elections, (The American Political Science Review, v. 74, p. 697 (Fall 1980)); Welch, S. and J. Hibbing, The Effects of Charges of Corruption on Voting Behavior in Congressional Elections 1982-1990, (The Journal of Politics, v. 59, p. 229 (1997); Basinger, Scott, Scandals and Congressional Elections in the Post-Watergate Era (Political Research Quarterly, June 2013, v. 66(2) p. 385) (abstract available online at http://prq.sagepub.com/content/66/2/385.full.pdf+html).
However, because this scandal broke after in-person early voting was completed, the effect is muted because roughly half of the votes in this election have already been cast. Additionally, because the story has not broken widely beyond the Statesman yet (in part because the Statesman is justifiably proud of its scoop and hasn’t shared it widely), there are as yet few ripples of public reaction to the story in the instant media Panopticon.
If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that if the Davis campaign puts a targeted ad into wide circulation this weekend (along with widespread social media promotion, push-polls, mentions in public addresses, etc.), that it might peel away a little less than 10% of Abbott’s Election Day vote, cumulating in maybe a 5% hit to Abbott’s vote totals.