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Texas has reached almost 17 million registered voters for the upcoming November 3rd General Election, according to the Secretary of State. This is roughly 1.9 million more voters than Texas had for the 2016 Presidential election, with 1.2 million becoming registered after the 2018 midterm election. Estimates are projecting up to 12 million Texans could vote in 2020, which would be a 71 percent turnout.

With this many new voters and voter intensity being incredibly high for both parties, combined with the elimination of straight ticket voting, much is uncertain in terms of electoral outcomes for 2020. In fact, the only certainty may be uncertainty.

For the Texas Legislature, the political stakes in this election could not be clearer, centering on the upcoming redistricting session, the possibility of a change in the partisan makeup and leadership of the Texas House, the threat of a possible shift in the balance of power in the Texas Senate if Democrats gain an additional seat, and a changing and growing electorate bringing new levels of competition and pressure in statewide races and other races up and down the ballot.

Shameless Spotlight on the Importance of Voting

Regardless of your voting history or party preferences, whatever your political views, we encourage all Texas architects to vote, and to encourage your colleagues and employees to vote. And remember, while WHO you vote for is NOT public – whether or not you vote is public.  Your neighbors will know if you vote.  Your friends will know if you vote.  Your profession will know if you vote.

Please plan to vote before the end of early voting on October 30th – or vote on Election Day, November 3rd.

Early Voting by Personal Appearance:  October 13, 2020 through October 30, 2020

More than 28 percent of registered voters have already voted early (4,708,734 voters) since the first day of early voting began on October 13th, with roughly another week and half of early voting left until October 30th.  In 2016, turnout was 59.4 percent with 8,969,226 people voting, which means the total of early votes cast to date is already half the total of all votes cast during the 2016 General Election.  And there is still another week and a half of early voting – and Election Day.

It is important to note that 35.7 percent of all votes cast so far have been cast by individuals who have not participated in either party’s primary in the last eight years. This is the group that everyone is watching.  This is the group that brings a lot of uncertainty.  Expect surprises. Get involved in any race you care about.

Political Environment for Texas Elections

President Trump’s re-election effort is looming over everything in Texas, and President Trump has been a turnout generator for both parties. The presidential race in Texas is highly polarized, with significant voter intensity on both sides. There has also been emergence of more voters identifying as independents, with the most competitive areas of the state being the outer urban areas, and the suburban and exurban areas.

In this more competitive environment, fights over the voting process matter more than ever. There are three ongoing lawsuits seeking to overturn Governor Abbott’s order limiting drop off locations for absentee ballots to one location per county. There will be litigation, and more litigation, over the census count and redistricting, and over pretty much anything and everything else that can be litigated.

Texans’ assessments of the national economy turned sharply negative through spring and summer, and the Texas economy is suffering on multiple fronts from the oil and gas downturn and the pandemic recession. The downturn in the economy and the unemployment rate, combined with the uncertainty of recovery and pandemic response efforts, will almost certainly leave the Legislature looking for new program cuts and new revenue sources.

Republican candidates down ballot are facing new dilemmas on how to appeal to voters especially in competitive mixed districts. And, if the GOP path in the 2019 legislative session was an attempt by the leadership to manage this new electoral uncertainty, that uncertainty has now increased by several magnitudes.

In a normal Presidential election year, national politics would heavily influence the state’s election outcomes. While Trump has maintained strong support of around 40 percent of the electorate, with the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic collapse and mass social unrest, combined with partisan demographic shifts in certain areas of the state, the 2020 elections could be more influenced than usual by presidential politics.

Will Republican and independent voters who may be turned off by Trump limit their defections to his line on the ballot, or will their dissatisfaction go deeper down the ballot? The elimination of the single-punch straight-party option means voters must now judge each candidate on their own instead of accepting the party slate, Republican or Democrat, with a single check mark.

While there is a lot we don’t know, there are some things we do know. We know the Texas Legislature will convene on January 12, 2021 for its traditional 140-day legislative session, in some manner, yet to be determined, that accommodates pandemic conditions and requirements.  They will convene knowing the state is facing critical revenue and budget shortfalls – and they will come together knowing that there will be one or more special sessions for the Legislature to consider redistricting, as the new census data needed for drawing districts will not be available.  And we know, before all this, there will be an election.

2020 General Election in Texas: November 3, 2020

This overview will highlight the hot legislative races in play this election cycle, noting the possible electoral upsets and touching on some of the key political implications the November 3rd election outcomes will have on the upcoming 87th Texas Legislature.

Texas House Current Partisan Balance: 83 R – 67 D

The Texas House of Representatives is ground zero in the 2020 state election, with the current partisan balance at 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats. Following the 2018 Democratic sweep, where Democrats gained 12 seats, they are now fighting to flip nine more seats to get to 76 Democrats in an effort to take majority control of the Texas House. Of course, Republicans are fighting to hold their current majority, and projections vary widely based on partisan predictions.

Whatever happens in the election the next biggest legislative fight on the horizon will be the Speaker’s race in the Texas House.  There is a lot on the line – and the detailed reports coming out on campaign expenditures will help tell the tale of this hotly contested and expensive electoral battle to gain or maintain the majority in the Texas House.

Nine Republican-held Texas House seats are considered to be in districts that could possibly flip Democratic:  HD26 open (Miller), HD64 (Stucky), HD66 (Shaheen), HD67 (Leach), HD96 open (Zedler), HD108 (Meyer), HD112 (Button), HD134 (S. Davis) and HD138 open (Bohac).  Four other Republican-held seats projected to be within close range of flipping: HD92 open (Stickland), HD93 (Krause), HD94 (Tinderholt) and HD121 (Allison).

Among the numerous House districts that are trending more Democratic, there are three House races with Democratic incumbents in districts that have become more favorable to Republicans: HD31 (Guillen), HD34 (Herrero) and HD149 (Vo).

Texas Senate Current Partisan Balance: 19 R – 12 D

Only one race is in play in terms of the possibility of partisan change in the Texas Senate: SD19 in San Antonio. Republican Senator Pete Flores is being challenged by long time State Representative Roland Gutierrez (D – San Antonio).

If SD19 were to flip back Democratic, as some have projected, the partisan balance of the Senate would become 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats.  While the Senate would still have a Republican majority, it would lack the reliability associated with 19 Republican votes – the number of votes required under Senate rules to bring a bill up for consideration on the Senate floor.

Of interest, but not a race that will change the partisan makeup of the Texas Senate, is the ongoing special election in SD30 to fill State Senator Pat Fallon’s unexpired term. Texas State Sen. Pat Fallon won the GOP nomination to replace John Ratcliffe on the November ballot, becoming Ratcliffe’s likely successor after he was confirmed as U.S. director of national intelligence. Governor Abbott has set the runoff between Republicans Shelly Luther and Drew Springer, current House Rep. for HD68, for December 19th.

For questions, more information about a particular race, or details regarding Texas Society of Architects PAC, please contact Government Relations Director, Becky Walker. Texas Society of Architects PAC (also known as Texas Architects Committee) raises and disburses funds to state candidates and gives the profession a powerful bipartisan voice in the political arena.  TAC is made up of dedicated volunteers from the association membership who work to increase political awareness and engagement in the profession.  TAC amplifies the impact of Texas Architects in state elections by allowing the profession to speak with one voice to support candidates who understand the built environment and the important role architects play in building safe, resilient and sustainable communities across our state.

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