Poll watchers: There are some rules (and the DOJ will be watching, too)

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — who, with his fellow Texas Republicans, has tried continually to suppress voter turnout among groups the GOP thinks will vote against them — on Monday issued an opinion warning election officials that “poll watchers” have certain rights and that if an election official tries to interfere with those rights, that official can face Class A misdemeanor charges, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Election officials cannot block official poll watchers from observing and inspecting voting equipment or the interaction between voters and poll workers. Poll watchers also may accompany election officials as they deliver records to vote counters.

But as the Austin American-Stateman points out, those poll watchers have some very strict rules governing what they CAN’T do, too:

“State law also forbids poll watchers from speaking to voters.
“To serve, poll watchers must be assigned to a specific precinct and must present a certificate signed by the campaign or party official who appointed them. No more than two watchers can represent each political party or candidate at a polling site, and observers can serve only in the county in which they are registered to vote.
“The Texas Secretary of State’s office also warns poll watchers that they must stay silent on issues of voter identification.
“Under an order by a federal judge, Texans who do not have a government-issued photo ID can show other documents Tuesday — such as a bank statement or utility bill — if they fill out and sign a declaration indicating why they couldn’t acquire a government ID, such as a lack of transportation, disability or theft. Poll watchers and election workers cannot question the truthfulness of the declaration, the agency said.”

Paxton’s opinion came in response to a request filed back in September by Llano County D.A. Wiley McAfee, and amid expectations that there will certainly be “poll watchers” at some polling places following Donald Trump’s repeated claims that the election is rigged and urging his followers to “monitor” polling places to guard against voter fraud. Many non-Trumpettes, of course, understand that the Widespread Voter Fraud Boogeyman is about as real as aliens and Bigfoot, and believe that a more likely scenario is that alt-right white supremacist Trumpettes are going to show up to try and intimidate certain voters into not casting their ballots.

With all the accusations flying back and forth, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Monday that the U.S. Department of Justice will be deploying more than 500 people to 67 different jurisdictions in 28 states today to monitor polls during the general election, CBS News reports. Those 67 jurisdictions include Dallas County, Harris County and Waller County in Texas.

—  Tammye Nash

Early voting begins today. Here’s everything you need to know

VOTE

It’s here!

Early voting begins today — Tuesday, Feb. 16 — and runs through Friday, Feb. 26. Election Day is March 1.

It is a presidential election year, and once again, Texas voters have a chance to make a difference in the presidential election. But you have to get out and vote for another reason: there are a whole lot of other races on the ballot, including contested primaries for an open seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, Congress, the state Supreme Court, the Texas Legislature and more.

Here’s my quick guide to help you through the process:

Are unsure who is on the ballot? Do you even know what a primary election is?

Fear not. The nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Texas Education Fund is able to answer those questions. Learn all about voting in Texas here.

Okay! You got that? Now check out their 2016 primary election voters guide, which is available in both English and Spanish.

I trust the League and respect its process. Why? Because the League reaches out to all candidates running for a state level office requesting they respond to questions that include basic background information and important issues in the state. Those answers are compiled in the candidates’ own words in the voters guide.

Candidates who responded after the print deadline are not in the print or website version, but are available at VOTE411.

2) Now you know who to vote for. Here’s what you need to vote, per the Texas Secretary of State’s VoteTexas.gov, a clearinghouse of information on voting”

Texas voters are required to present one of seven types of photo identification to be eligible to vote.

The seven forms of identification permitted are:

  • Texas driver license—unexpired or expired no longer than 60 days at the time of voting
  • Texas personal identification card—unexpired or expired no longer than 60 days at the time of voting
  • Texas concealed handgun license—unexpired or expired no longer than 60 days at the time of voting
  • U.S. passport book or card—unexpired or expired no longer than 60 days at the time of voting
  • U.S. Military identification with photo—unexpired or expired no longer than 60 days at the time of voting
  • U.S. Citizenship Certificate or Certificate of Naturalization with photo
  • Election Identification Certificate (E.I.C.)

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, if you do not have one of the first six forms of identification only then may you apply for the E.I.C. at no charge. (Getting to a D.P.S. location and standing in line is a whole different story, however.)

Learn more about the getting an E.I.C. here.

During the early voting period, you may vote at any designated voting site in your county. On Election Day, March 1, you must vote at your precinct’s designated voting site.

Need more information?

Collin County 1-800-687-8546 co.collin.tx.us/elections

Dallas County 214-819-6300 dallascountyvotes.org

Denton County 940-349-3200 votedenton.com

Tarrant County 817-831-8683 tarrantcounty.com/eVote

—  James Russell

Please read this important message about making sure you’re registered to vote

vote-buttonLet’s get real, Texans. You really suck when it comes to voting.

According to the Secretary of State, 1.9 million of you went to the polls in the March 2014 primaries. In the May 2014 run-off elections, 954,063 of y’all turned out.

That year, there were 13.6 million registered voters of the 18.9 million eligible adults.

In the general election, only 4.7 million of y’all went to the polls.

But I’m not blaming you. Instead I’m encouraging you to make sure you are registered to vote today. Why today? Because today is the last day to qualify to vote in the March 1 primary. This is a huge presidential election year, with just as important races down the ballot.

Here’s how you do it:

Register in person at your county Voter Registrar’s office. (In most Texas counties, the Tax Assessor-Collector is also the Voter Registrar. In some counties, the County Clerk or Elections Administrator registers voters.)

Or you can register by mail by obtaining an application from your county Voter Registrar’s office or the Secretary of State’s office. You can also pick up applications at libraries, government offices, or high schools.

After you check, double check and triple check, check out the League of Women Voters of Texas voters guide to learn more about the candidates.

Early voting for the primary begins Feb. 16.

—  James Russell

Elections 2014: Get ready, early voting begins today

VOTEEarly voting begins today, Monday, Oct. 20, and runs through Friday, Oct. 31. There’s a whole lot on the ballot locally and statewide from contested races at the top of the ballot all the way down to local bond packages. Watch for coverage here at Instant Tea until Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 4.

But before I get to coverage, learn what you need below to vote per the Texas Secretary of State’s VoteTexas.gov, a clearinghouse of information on voting.

The deadline to register to vote in Texas has expired. But if you are registered, you must present one of seven valid forms of identification.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s  Saturday, Oct. 18 upheld the state’s voter ID law. This means Texas voters will be required to present one of seven types of photo identification to be eligible to vote.

The seven forms of identification permitted are:

  • Texas driver license—unexpired or expired no longer than 60 days at the time of voting
  • Texas personal identification card—unexpired or expired no longer than 60 days at the time of voting
  • Texas concealed handgun license—unexpired or expired no longer than 60 days at the time of voting
  • U.S. passport book or card—unexpired or expired no longer than 60 days at the time of voting
  • U.S. Military identification with photo—unexpired or expired no longer than 60 days at the time of voting
  • U.S. Citizenship Certificate or Certificate of Naturalization with photo
  • Election Identification Certificate (E.I.C.)

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, if you do not have one of the first six forms of identification only then may you apply for the E.I.C. at no charge. (Getting to a D.P.S. location and standing in line is a whole different story, however.)

Learn more about the getting an E.I.C. here.

During the early voting period, you may vote at any designated voting site in your county.

On Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 4. you must vote at your precinct’s designated voting site.

Need more information?

Collin County 1-800-687-8546 co.collin.tx.us/elections

Dallas County 214-819-6300 dallascountyvotes.org

Denton County 940-349-3200 votedenton.com

Tarrant County 817-831-8683 tarrantcounty.com/eVote

—  James Russell

Voter ID law ruling overturned, photo ID required for 2014 elections

voteThe 5th Circuit of Appeals yesterday, Oct. 14, overturned a Friday, Oct. 11 ruling by U.S. District Judge Nelva Ramos declaring the Texas voter ID law unconstitutional.

The appeals court ruling stated that Ramos’ decision “substantially disturbs the election process of the State of Texas just nine days before early voting begins. Thus, the value of preserving the status quo here is much higher than in most other contexts.”

Ramos, who was appointed by President Obama to the court, in her ruling called the law a “poll tax” and “discriminatory toward African-Americans and Hispanics.” Her ruling called for the 2014 elections to proceed without the strict voter ID law, which requires voters present one of seven forms of photo identification.

Opponents argued the law was intended to squash the voting rights of minorities and college students, many of whom traditionally vote Democratic.

Plaintiffs, including Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Campaign Legal Center plan to appeal to U.S. Supreme court to overturn the ruling, reports the Texas Tribune.

Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry, the state’s top elections administrator, said the court’s stay “means photo ID requirements will continue to be in effect for the November 4 Election, just as they have been for the last three statewide elections. Voters should prepare, as many already have, to show one of seven approved forms of photo ID if they plan to vote in person.”

There is still time to get one of the seven qualifying photo identification cards before early voting begins on Monday, Oct. 20. You may obtain a photo ID any time before the Nov. 4 election. More information is available here.

The deadline to register to vote — not obtain a photo ID — was Oct. 6.

—  James Russell

Last day to register to vote for November 4 election

vote-buttonToday is the last day to register to vote in the November 4 general election.

Per VoteTexas.org:

Register in person at your county Voter Registrar’s office. (In most Texas counties, the Tax Assessor-Collector is also the Voter Registrar. In some counties, the County Clerk or Elections Administrator registers voters.)

Or you can register by mail by obtaining an application from your county Voter Registrar’s office or the Secretary of State’s office. You can also pick up applications at libraries, government offices, or high schools.

As I reported in this week’s edition, a recent poll showed a single digit difference between gubernatorial nominees Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott. Every vote counts.

See you at the polls.

—  James Russell

AIDS housing funding survives challenge in Houston city council

Helena Brown

The city funding for four Houston nonprofits providing housing to at-risk populations living with HIV/AIDS survived a challenge from city council member Helena Brown last Wednesday. Under consideration by the council were ordinances to dispense almost $2.5 million in federal funds managed by the city to the SRO Housing Corporation, Bering Omega Community Services, Catholic Charities and SEARCH Homeless services.

Brown initially used a parliamentary procedure known as a “tag” to delay the funding for the Houston SRO Housing Corporation and Bering Omega. Any council member may tag an item under consideration, delaying the vote on the item for one week. Brown explained that she objected to government funding of charitable entities:

“I spoke last week on this very issue on grant funds and the idea that we are, you know, fighting with other entities and other governments for grant funds that really isn’t there. The federal government is in a worse condition than the city of Houston and to continue to try to milk the system where there’s no milk, is just, I mean, we’re fighting with our brothers, as I said last week, to get credit for who is going to push a friend over the cliff… We need to continue to look at the private sector and the business sector. Because even, I attended this event where this wonderful speaker was talking about the generosity of Americans and 80% of donations to nonprofits come from private individuals, not even corporations, and we need to continue to rely on that right now because the government right now, we’re broke – we need to face that reality.”

Other council members spoke passionately of the need for continued funding, arguing that by assisting people living with HIV/AIDS in achieving independence, particularly those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness,  the programs added to the tax based and help insure long-term stability.

“We don’t live in a perfect a world,” said freshman council member Mike Laster (the first out gay man to serve on the Houston City Council). “These organizations do their very best to raise money to care for the people among us, but they still need to reach out to entities that have that kind of capital, and by the grace of God this city and this government as an entity has some of that capitol, and I’m very proud that we’re able to provide those kind of services to some of my community members.”

Council member Wanda Adams, who serves as chair of the council’s Housing and Community Development Committee, also spoke in favor of continuing funding. Council member Ellen Cohen, whose district contains both SRO Housing and Bering Omega, spoke of how her life had personally been touched by AIDS:

“One of the first young men to pass away in New York City was a cousin of mine of something [then] called a very rare form on pneumonia… which we now realize was not. So I understand the need for these kinds of services. On a personal note I worked with Bering and I know all the fine work that they do, I’m addressing all the items but I’m particularly addressing [the Bering Omega funding] and feel it’s absolutely critical that we provide the kind of funding items, and that we are, in fact, our brother’s and our sister’s keepers.

After Laster asked Mayor Annise Parker the procedure for overriding a tag Brown removed her tag, but raised a new concern about HIV/AIDS housing, saying that her office had requested a list of the owners of apartment units where those receiving rental assistance lived. City Attorney David Feldman explained to Brown that federal law prohibits making public information that could be used to identify people receiving assistance through the housing program. Feldman said that, in his legal opinion, revealing the names of the owners of the apartments would violate federal law. Brown said that she was concerned that their might be a “conflict of interest” with apartment owners that needed to be investigated, claiming that as the reason for her tag.

Brown eventually removed her tag, rather than have it overturned. All four ordinances providing funding passed with only Brown voting “nay.”

—  admin

Houston ARCH seeks public submissions for new logo

Houston ARCH proposed logos

History relies on historians, whether the formal history of the academic or the informal history of grandpa’s stories, someone must tell the tale for the story to live on. The straight world has many formal institutions designed to maintain its story, from museums to archives to oral history projects the stories of straight people are well documented and preserved.

Queer history, on the other hand, is far more fragile. As a community we have a habit of separating ourselves by generations and the documents of our recent past, the fliers, t-shirts and pamphlets, are often seen as ephemeral trash, rather than important historical documents.

Several institutions have been created to try to preserve that history, including the Botts Archive, the Gulf Coast Archive, and archives at the University of Houston, Rice University and the Transgender Foundation of America. These desperate efforts have joined together to form the Houston Area Rainbow Collective History (Houston ARCH), a coordinated effort to preserve and document LGBT History in Houston.

Of course, any great organization needs a great logo, and that’s where Houston ARCH is reaching out to the public for help. Through January 5 you can submit your design via e-mail to billyhoya@billyhoya.info. Designs must contain the name “Houston ARCH,” and may spell out the acronym, also designs should be be scalable, work both in color and black and white, and be suitable for print and online reproduction. Designers should take care that their submissions are not confusable with logo’s of similarly named organizations.

So far only two proposals have been submitted and loaded to the Houston ARCH website for comment. Final voting for the design will take place January 25 at the regular Houston ARCH meeting.

—  admin

Updated election results

With 239 of 769 precincts reporting:

District A
Helena Brown: 57%
Brenda Stardig: 43%

District B
Alvin Byrd: 51%
Jerry Davis: 49%

Place 2:
Kristi Thibaut 48%
Andrew Burks 52%

Place 5
Jack Christie  52%
Jo Jones  48%

Most of the races are still where they where after the early voting results came in, with the exception of the place 2 race where Thibaut’s early lead is tightening.

—  admin