State of Texas: The last-minute effort to reach voters before Election Day

State of Texas

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Both Democrats and Republicans are holding campaign events in the final days before the election in a last-minute effort to reach Texans who have not yet voted.

Polls show a close race at the top of the ballot with Joe Biden within striking distance of Donald Trump. The prospect of a tight race brought Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris to Texas on Friday. She made stops in Houston, Fort Worth, and McAllen.

“I’m here in Texas to thank you for all you have been doing, to speak up about these challenges and to remind people to vote,” Harris said in Fort Worth on Friday.

Neither Trump nor Biden is expected to visit the Lone Star State before Election Day.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick chairs Trump’s re-election campaign in Texas. He told us he expects Trump to win the state, but he predicts it will be closer than his winning margin four years ago, where he won by 9 points. He predicts the margin will be between 4 and 9 points in Trump’s favor.

“This is still a Republican state,” Patrick said. “There’s no one who is pro-life – Anglo, Black or Hispanic – who’s going to vote for Joe Biden. There’s no one who is pro-2nd Amendment who’s going to vote for Joe Biden. There’s no one who understands the importance of the oil and gas industry who’s gonna vote for Joe Biden. There’s no one who believes the border should be secure is going to vote for Joe Biden.”

Patrick also predicted victory for incumbent Senator John Cornyn. Cornyn voted early after returning to Texas after working on Capitol Hill to confirm now-Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Cornyn’s opponent MJ Hegar also voted last week. Polls have shown the Democrat is tightening the race, with both candidates flooding Texas airwaves with ads aimed at getting their supporters to the polls.

Senior Brand Director for the Texas Democratic Party Brittany Switzer says the party’s tactics have been paying off this year.

“Texans are going to decide who our next president is,” Switzer said. “And we also have an opportunity to flip the state legislature and send MJ Hegar to the US Senate. So there’s just so much at stake in this election, and we aren’t taking any location, any area, any vote for granted.”

For insight into the final push to Election Day, the KXAN politics team joined State of Texas to break down the race.

“Flipping Texas has a different definition for a number of people,” KXAN politics reporter John Engel said. “Some people say that’s a Joe Biden victory statewide at the top of the ticket. Others say that the big priority is the Texas House and being able to have a role in redistricting and a little more sway in how the next legislative session will go. So I think most of us are looking at some of these key house races.”

Democrats have targeted 22 state House districts while Republicans are looking at the 12 seats that they lost in 2018. Among those, the key for Democrats is to win the state House seats that Beto O’Rourke won or outperformed in his 2018 Senate campaign. The battle for the state house is especially concentrated in suburban areas outside Dallas and Houston.

Outside of Austin, the Biden campaign launched a Texas bus tour this week, and Harris visited three Texas cities on Friday. Yet, both campaigns have stopped short from sending their top candidate to the state.

“What’s interesting is we keep talking about Texas as this battleground state, but neither actual presidential candidate have made their way to Texas,” state bureau reporter Maggie Glynn said.

The campaigns have been invigorated by massive turnout, something that is surprising to see in a state like Texas.

“The state has already surpassed its record voter turnout, a huge deal in a state that is particularly low in terms of turnout historically,” state bureau reporter Wes Rapaport said. “Something you may be able to attribute to this is an extra week of early voting. That third week that the governor added to early voting may be a factor here in people not only feeling more comfortable of getting to the polls, but having more time to do it.”

One major factor to watch is the behavior of Texas’ new voters. Most of the early voters this year are those that voted in 2016, but Texas has added more than 2 million new voters since then.

“How will they act? Are those younger voters or those energized voters like Wes was talking about? Which side of the fence do they land on? I think that’s the biggest factor that we see on election night, in my opinion,” Engel said.

Another major factor to anticipate is the time it takes for states to count ballots. In Texas, mail-in ballots must be postmarked before Election Day, but can still be counted up until the next day.

“We might not have an answer on election night, we might have to wait a day, maybe even a week. Some people, you know, are saying even longer than that. But it’ll just be interesting to kind of see how the timing of this election plays out,” Glynn said.

With so many people voting by mail, Texans may have concerns about whether their ballot has been received. To ease some fears, the non-profit “Vote America” created the website TXballot.org. On the site, you can type in your voter ID number, or your name and the county where you’re registered. Then, the website will let you know if your vote has been processed.

Data driving the campaigns

Few people may realize that their voter registration is public information. Yet campaigns combine that basic information with detailed data on where people shop and what people buy to craft tailored campaign messages – that may explain the texts, phone calls, and emails you may receive this time of year.

Derek Ryan, a Republican campaign strategist with Ryan Data and Research, says data such as neighborhood, income level, and race can give campaigns a close picture of a voter’s political preferences.

“If he’s a white male, you know, making $60,000 a year… he drives a pickup truck, shops at Cabela’s… he’s likely to be, you know, more of a Republican-leaning voter,” Ryan said. “As opposed to, you know, somebody who maybe shops at, you know, Whole Foods and drives a Prius… So they can take that consumer data, and kind of develop an even better picture of likely voters.”

Ryan says this data comes from vendors around the country who can use information they gain from stores, as well as property records.

“If you ever get a card for, you know, at the grocery store, or the pharmacy, or you know, places like that, that’s information that they provide to vendors,” Ryan said. “These vendors pull up property records and kind of try to attach that information to voter records as well… that’s all information that gets collected.”

Texas considers a voter’s name and address to be public information that anyone can request. But there are exceptions for “protected persons,” like victims of sexual assault or family violence.

Big Tech Testifies

Executives from Twitter, Facebook, and Google were called to testify on Capitol Hill last week. Senate lawmakers grilled the top tech leaders about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the rule that shields tech companies from liability when their social media platforms moderate content.

The hearings got heated when Texas Senator Ted Crus accused Twitter of working for Democrats.

“Why do you persist in behaving as a democratic Super PAC silencing views contrary to your political beliefs?” Cruz asked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

“We are not doing that. We realize we need to earn trust more,” Dorsey responded.

Dorsey admitted the company was wrong when it blocked the New York Post from sharing a story about Joe Biden’s son, saying Twitter has since changed the policy and will now label tweets to provide context instead of blocking links.

Democrats argued companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google need strict policies to stop the spread of misinformation. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the FBI warned his company to closely monitor foreign hackers.

“If a trove of documents appeared… we should view that with suspicion,” Zuckerberg said.

New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall says the companies should ignore Republican threats and keep doing their jobs.

“Will you continue to push back on this kind of foreign interference even if powerful Republicans threaten to take official action,” Udall asked Zuckerberg.

“Senator, absolutely,” Zuckerberg responded.

Both Democrats and Republicans have similar goals of including more accountability and transparency from tech companies. However, there is disagreement on legislation that would accomplish those goals.

Protecting LGBTQ+ Texans from discrimination

A Texas regulatory board voted unanimously to reinstate a rule protecting LGBTQ+ people with disabilities from discrimination after backlash from the public and state lawmakers.

Earlier this month, the state’s Board of Social Worker Examiners removed specific language from its Code of Conduct that would have allowed social workers to turn away clients based on gender identity or disability.

Social worker advocacy groups and members of the LGBTQ+ community called the move a gateway for discrimination. The board originally said it was following a request from the Governor’s office to match the wording of existing statute and had no ill-intent.

“I’d like to apologize to the members of the public for the anguish caused by actions of the council perceived as hostile to the LGBTQ plus community or to disabled persons,” Gloria Canseco of Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council said. “Although this council is not authorized to change statutory law, we can certainly bring the outdated language to the attention of our legislators.”

The Code of Conduct is back in its original form after this week’s vote. This language bans social workers from turning away clients solely based on disability or gender identity.

The Board has requested an opinion from the Office of the Attorney General to make sure they have the legal ability to add the protections back in.

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