Stories about Texas

The voter registration deadline for Texas statewide election is Oct. 4

The voter registration deadline for the November 2, 2021 election in Texas is Oct. 4. Prospective voters can request a postage-paid voter registration form online or complete the form online and return it to the county voter registrar. Applications are also available at a variety of locations including the county voter registrar’s office, the secretary of state’s office, libraries, and high schools.

The ballot will feature eight statewide constitutional amendments. The ballot titles and proposed changes are listed below:

  1. Proposition 1: Authorizes professional sports team charitable foundations to conduct raffles at rodeo venues and includes professional association-sanctioned rodeos in the definition of a professional sports team
  2. Proposition 2: Authorizes a county to issue bonds to fund infrastructure and transportation projects in undeveloped and blighted areas
  3. Proposition 3: Prohibits the state or any political subdivision from enacting a law, rule, order, or proclamation that limits religious services or organizations
  4. Proposition 4: Changes the eligibility requirements for a justice of the supreme court, a judge of the court of criminal appeals, a justice of a court of appeals, and a district judge
  5. Proposition 5: Authorizes the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct to accept and investigate complaints and reports against candidates running for state judicial office
  6. Proposition 6: States that residents of nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, or state-supported living centers have a right to designate an essential caregiver that may not be prohibited from visiting the resident
  7. Proposition 7: Allows the legislature to extend a homestead tax limit for surviving spouses of disabled individuals as long as the spouse is 55 years old and resides at the home
  8. Proposition 8: Allows the legislature to apply a homestead tax exemption for surviving spouses of members of the military to those fatally injured in the line of duty

The Texas State Legislature can refer constitutional amendments to the ballot in odd-numbered years and even-numbered years. However, as the legislature convenes regular sessions in odd-numbered years but not even-numbered years, most amendments have been referred to ballot in odd-numbered years.

Texas is one of 16 states that require a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber during one legislative session to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot. That amounts to a minimum of 100 votes in the Texas House of Representatives and 21 votes in the Texas Senate, assuming no vacancies. In 2021, the average number of legislative votes for amendments referred to the ballot was 160.

In 2021, eight of the 218 introduced constitutional amendments were certified for the ballot during the regular session, meaning the rate of certification was 3.7%, down from 4.6% in 2019.

Between 1995 and 2020, 154 of the 169 constitutional amendments that appeared on Texas ballots were approved. The number of ballot measures on odd-year statewide ballots ranged from 7 to 22.

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Special elections to be held in Texas House districts

Special elections are being held on Sept. 28 for District 10 and District 118 of the Texas House of Representatives. The winner of these special elections will serve until January 2023.

  • In District 10, Republicans Brian Harrison and John Wray are running in a general election runoff. Harrison and Wray advanced from the general election on Aug. 31, earning 40.5% and 35.8% of the vote, respectively. The seat became vacant after Jake Ellzey (R) won a special election to Texas’ 6th Congressional District on July 27. Ellzey had represented the district since January 2021.
  • In District 118, Katie Farias (D), Desi Martinez (D), Frank Ramirez (D), John Lujan (R), and Adam Salyer (R) are running in the general election. A runoff will be called if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote. The seat became vacant on Aug. 19 after Leo Pacheco (D) resigned to teach public administration at San Antonio College. Pacheco had represented the district since 2019.

Heading into the special elections, Republicans have an 82-66 majority in the Texas House with two vacancies. Texas has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

As of September, 60 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 20 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. Texas held 28 state legislative special elections from 2011 to 2020.

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Redistricting Roundup: Colorado redistricting commission releases new proposed congressional maps

Here’s a summary of the week’s noteworthy redistricting news from Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, and Texas.

Colorado: The Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission staff released a proposed congressional district map on Sept. 3. This is the first proposed map the commission released since the U.S. Census Bureau distributed block-level data from the 2020 census to states on Aug. 12. The commission is holding public hearings about the newly released maps during the week of Sept. 7.

The Colorado Supreme Court previously ordered on July 26 that the Commission submit final congressional redistricting plans for approval no later than Oct. 1. Colorado was apportioned eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2020 census—a net gain of one seat for the state.

Connecticut: The Connecticut General Assembly Reapportionment Committee will not create congressional and state legislative district maps by the state’s constitutional deadline of Sept. 15, according to The CT Mirror. If the deadline is not met, redistricting in Connecticut will be decided by a nine-member backup commission consisting of eight members appointed by the majority and minority leaders of each chamber of the legislature and a ninth member selected by the eight appointed commission members. Maps determined by the backup commission are not subject to legislative approval. Connecticut previously used this process in 2011 after the committee did not meet the deadline that year.

Iowa: The Iowa Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission announced it would release the first draft of proposed state legislative district maps on Sept. 16. The Iowa Constitution states that the Iowa Supreme Court is responsible for legislative redistricting if the general assembly doesn’t enact new maps before Sept. 15. In April, the Iowa Supreme Court released a statement saying that “the supreme court tentatively plans to meet its constitutional responsibility by implementing a process which permits, to the extent possible, the redistricting framework…to proceed after September 15.”

Texas: Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced on Sept. 7 that he was calling a special session of the state legislature to address redistricting and other issues beginning Sept. 20.

Two Democratic state senators filed a lawsuit in federal district court on Sept. 1 arguing that the legislature cannot legally redraw district maps during a special session since the Texas Constitution requires lawmakers to begin the process after the “first regular session after the publication of each United States decennial census.” The lawsuit asks the court to draw interim maps until the state’s next regular legislative session in January 2023.

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Texas Supreme Court orders city council to use Save Austin Now’s ballot language for police measure

Austin voters will decide a ballot measure related to police staffing, training requirements, and demographic representation in hiring on November 2, 2021. The Texas Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the city council had to use the caption drafted by the measure’s sponsor, Save Austin Now, rather than the language approved by the city council for the ballot.

The court ruled that the sponsor’s language which appeared on circulating petitions complied with state law and did not need to be rewritten by the city council. However, the court agreed with the council’s addition of a fiscal impact statement saying, “We agree with the City that the omission of any cost information can be misleading and we cannot say that including the City’s cost estimate in the ballot language affirmatively misrepresents the ordinance’s character and purpose or its chief features so as to make it potentially misleading.”

Save Austin Now filed a lawsuit on August 16 arguing that the ballot language adopted by the city council was selective because it did not describe the initiative’s provisions related to diversity hiring and inventive guidelines or the 40 additional training hours for officers required by the measure. They also argued that the five-year cost estimate was exaggerated. 

The city council adopted the following ballot language: “Shall an ordinance be approved that, at an estimated cost of $271.5 million – $598.8 million over five years, requires the City to employ at least 2 police officers per 1,000 residents at all times; requires at least 35% of patrol officer time be uncommitted time, otherwise known as community engagement time; requires additional financial incentives for certain officers; requires specific kinds of training for officers and certain public officials and their staffs; and requires there be at least three full-term cadet classes for the department until staffing levels reach a specific level?”

The following language will be on the ballot according to the supreme court’s ruling: “A petitioned ordinance to enhance public safety and police oversight, transparency and accountability by adding a new chapter 2-16 to establish minimum standards for the police department to ensure effective public safety and protect residents and visitors to Austin, and prescribing minimal requirements for achieving the same at an estimated cost of $271.5 million – $598.8 million over five years.” This language, except the cost estimate, was circulated by Save Austin Now on signature petitions for the initiative.

The Austin City Charter states that ballot initiatives “shall state the caption of the ordinance” on the ballot.

The proposed ordinance would:

  1. establish minimum police staffing and require there to be at least 2 police officers for every 1,000 residents of Austin;
  2. add an additional 40 hours of police training each year on topics such as active shooter scenarios, critical thinking, and defensive tactics; and
  3. provide police with additional compensation for being proficient in non-English languages, enrolling in cadet mentoring programs, and being recognized for honorable conduct.

In Austin, initiative petitioners must gather 20,000 signatures to qualify an initiative for the ballot. The requirement is based on five percent of the qualified voters in the city or 20,000, whichever is smaller. The deadline to collect signatures to qualify for the 2021 ballot was July 22, 2021. If petitioners collect enough signatures, their initiative is sent to the city council, which must either approve the initiative or put it on the ballot for the next allowable election date. 

On July 19, Save Austin Now submitted 27,778 signatures. On August 3, 2021, the Austin City Clerk announced that a sampling of a quarter of the submitted signatures projected 25,786 valid signatures, 5,786 more than the minimum requirement. On August 11, the city council voted unanimously to put the initiative on the ballot instead of passing it outright.

In 2021, Ballotpedia is covering a selection of local police-related measures concerning police oversight, the powers and structure of oversight commissions, police practices, law enforcement department structure and administration, law enforcement budgets, law enforcement training requirements, law enforcement staffing requirements, and body and dashboard camera footage. Click here to read more.

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Update: SCOTUS issues 5-4 ruling rejecting emergency appeal to Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued a 5-4 ruling on Sept. 1, denying a request to block enforcement of a Texas law banning abortion procedures after six weeks of pregnancy and authorizing private civil right of action related to violations of the law. The latter authorization allows private citizens to bring civil actions against individuals for violating the law or aiding in violation of the law. The bill, S.B. 8, was signed into law on May 19 by Governor Greg Abbott (R). 

The ruling came after the court on Aug. 31 did not respond to the emergency appeal filed by a group of abortion providers seeking to block enforcement of the law. The appellants argued that the law violated the Supreme Court’s rulings in Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), establishing the constitutional right to have an abortion before the point of fetal viability, approximately 24 weeks into a pregnancy. 

The emergency appeal was submitted through the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to Justice Samuel Alito, the justice assigned to review emergency appeals originating from the circuit court. As the circuit justice, Alito referred the matter to the full court for consideration.

In the unsigned opinion from the Sept. 1 ruling, the court stated: “The applicants now before us have raised serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law at issue. But their application also presents complex and novel antecedent procedural questions on which they have not carried their burden.”

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan would have granted the application to stop the law’s enforcement, and each filed dissenting opinions.

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Texas House of Representatives District 10 special election heads to runoff

Image of a red sign with the words "Polling Place" a pointing arrow.

A special general election was held for the Texas House of Representatives District 10 on Aug. 31. Brian E. Harrison (R) and John Wray (R) advanced to a general runoff election and defeated six other candidates. The candidate with the third-most votes was Pierina Otiniano (D). A runoff date had not been announced as of Aug. 31.

The special election was called after Jake Ellzey (R) won a special election to Texas’ 6th Congressional District on July 27. Ellzey won the 2020 election for the Texas House of Representatives District 10 seat and assumed office in January 2021.

As of Aug. 31, 57 state legislative special elections have been scheduled across the country. The District 10 election was the second state legislative special election for Texas thus far in 2021. A special election for the Texas House of Representatives District 68 was called for Jan. 23, after Drew Springer (R) won a special election to Texas state Senate District 30 on Dec. 19. David Spiller (R) won the general runoff election for the District 68 seat on Feb. 23.

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SCOTUS declines to act in emergency appeal to Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy

The Supreme Court of the United States on Aug. 31 did not respond to an emergency appeal filed by a group of abortion providers seeking to block enforcement of a Texas law banning abortion procedures after six weeks of pregnancy and authorizing private civil right of action related to violations of the law. The latter authorization allows private citizens to bring civil actions against individuals for violating the law or aiding in violation of the law. The bill, Senate Bill 8, was signed into law on May 19 by Gov. Greg Abbott (R). 

The appellants argued that the law violated the Supreme Court’s rulings in Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), establishing the constitutional right to have an abortion before the point of fetal viability, approximately 24 weeks into a pregnancy. The emergency appeal was submitted through the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to Justice Samuel Alito, the justice assigned to review emergency appeals originating from the circuit court. As the circuit justice, Alito was authorized to respond to the request himself or refer the matter to the full court for consideration.

Click here to review the Supreme Court justices’ circuit assignments.

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Campaign finance update: Top fundraisers in Texas

Campaign finance requirements govern the raising and spending of money for political campaigns. While not the only factor in an election’s outcome, successful fundraising can provide a candidate with advantages, such as the ability to boost name recognition and promote a message. In addition, fundraising can indicate enthusiasm for candidates and parties.

This article lists the top individual fundraisers in Texas by their party affiliation as well as the top ten fundraisers overall. It is based on campaign finance reports that active Texas candidate political action committees (candidate PACs) submitted to the Texas Ethics Commission. It includes activity between Jan. 1, 2021, and June 30, 2021. Candidate PACs represent individuals who have run for state or local office at any point, including past and present officeholders. This article does not include non-candidate PACs.

Top Texas Fundraisers

The top fundraisers in Texas elections are shown below. For the purpose of this article, fundraisers may include individuals who are on the ballot this election cycle as well as those not currently running for office but who have received contributions during this reporting period. Individuals are listed with the office that they held at the time of publication, if applicable.

In the Democratic party, the top fundraisers in the most recent semiannual reporting period were:

In the Republican party, the top fundraisers in the most recent semiannual reporting period were:

Fundraising Totals

Overall, the top Texas Democratic candidate PACs raised $1.91 million in this period. The top Republican candidate PACs raised $34.10 million. Texas candidate PACs in the Jan. 1, 2021, through June 30, 2021, filing period raised a total of $168.82 million. Combined, these Texas candidates account for 21% of total fundraising.

Contributions to the top five Democratic candidates made up 2% of the total amount reported by their party’s campaigns. Contributions to the top five Republican fundraisers comprised 57% of the total amount reported by Republican campaigns.

The table below provides additional data from the campaign finance reports from the top ten fundraisers. For more information on fundraising and spending for Texas races on the 2022 ballot, click here.

NameParty AffiliationRaised this periodSpent this period
Greg AbbottRepublican Party$20,872,440$8,866,677
Dan PatrickRepublican Party$5,025,624$827,206
Donald HuffinesRepublican Party$4,123,108$1,386,026
George P. BushRepublican Party$2,264,138$883,852
Ken PaxtonRepublican Party$1,819,469$263,713
Eva GuzmanRepublican Party$1,051,723$50,755
Dade PhelanRepublican Party$1,040,018$833,007
Glenn HegarRepublican Party$853,050$763,007
Mike CollierDemocratic Party$757,110$508,361
Dawn BuckinghamRepublican Party$587,780$155,187

Campaign Finance Reporting Periods

The reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission cover Jan. 1, 2021, through June 30, 2021. Candidate PACs in Texas must file semiannual financial reports of their fundraising and campaign spending. During election years, candidate PACs also file additional financial reports before primary and general elections.

The next semiannual campaign finance reporting deadline for Texas legislators and candidates will include activity between July 1, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2021.

This article was published in partnership with Transparency USA. Click here to learn more about that partnership.

Texas legislature refers constitutional amendment to May 2022 ballot

Texas voters will decide on a constitutional amendment related to a property tax reduction for elderly and disabled residents on May 7, 2022. The amendment was passed during the second special legislative session, which convened on Aug. 7, 2021. The amendment would authorize the state legislature to reduce the property tax limit for school maintenance and operations taxes imposed on the homesteads of elderly or disabled residents to reflect any tax rate reduction enacted by law from the preceding tax year. 

To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a two-thirds vote is required in both the Texas state Senate and the Texas House of Representatives. This amendment was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 2 (SJR 2) on Aug. 6, 2021. On Aug. 9, 2021, the state Senate passed SJR 2 by a vote of 29-0 with two absent. On Aug. 26, 2021, the state House passed SJR 2 by a vote of 116-0 with 32 absent or not voting.

Senate Bill 12 (SB 12), the enabling legislation for the amendment, was also passed during the special session. SB 12 extends a property tax reduction enacted by House Bill 3 in 2019 to elderly and disabled residents whose property taxes are frozen either when they turn 65 or buy a new property if they are disabled. The Senate passed SB 12 by a vote of 31-0, and the House passed SB 12 by a vote of 121-0 with 27 absent or not voting. As of Aug. 30, the bill was awaiting the governor’s signature. If the amendment is passed, SB 12 would take effect on Jan. 1, 2023. The Legislative Budget Board estimated that the reduction would result in a $467.5 million reduction to revenue in the first two years of its implementation.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R), who wrote the amendment, said, “I hope a unanimous vote from the Senate is a signal that this really is good bipartisan legislation. This isn’t just tax relief. This would be a tax cut, and over time it would continue for as long as (seniors and disabled Texans) own the home.”

The amendment and SB 12 were modeled after a 2007 constitutional amendment and 2006 property tax reduction. In 2007, voters approved Proposition 1, which reduced school property tax freeze amounts on homesteads of the elderly or disabled to provide a tax reduction similar to the reduction other taxpayers had received in 2006. It was passed by a margin of 87.7% to 12.3%.

The 2022 amendment is the first even-numbered year ballot measure to appear on Texas ballots since 2014. Between 1985 and 2020, 10 ballot measures have appeared on even-numbered year ballots in Texas compared to 251 ballot measures on odd-numbered year ballots during that same period.

The deadline for state legislators to refer an amendment to the November 2021 ballot was Aug. 16. In November, Texas voters will decide eight constitutional amendments related to taxes, the state judiciary, raffles at rodeo venues, county authorization to issue bonds for infrastructure, designated essential caregivers at nursing facilities, and limitations on religious services. 

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Seven applicants in the running for vacant Texas Supreme Court seat

Seven applicants are vying for an open seat on the Texas Supreme Court as of Aug. 18. The applicants are seeking to fill a vacancy on the court created when former Justice Eva Guzman stepped down on June 11 to run for Texas attorney general.

Under Texas law, in the event of a midterm vacancy, the governor appoints a replacement. The Texas state Senate must then confirm the nominee. Appointees serve until the next general election, in which he or she must participate in a partisan election to remain on the bench for the remainder of the unexpired term. Guzman’s replacement will be Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) fifth nominee to the nine-member supreme court.

The seven applicants are:

  • Judge Josh Burgess
  • Judge April Farris
  • Attorney Harston Dustin “Dusty” Fillmore III
  • Attorney and former Judge Ysmael D. Fonseca Jr.
  • Arbitrator and former Judge Michael Massengale
  • Judge Ken Wise
  • Attorney and former Judge Alicia Franklin York

As of this writing, Abbott had not released a timeline for filling the vacant seat.

In 2021, there have been 15 supreme court vacancies in 13 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. To date, 12 of those 15 vacancies have been filled.

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