Main | Saturday, August 02, 2014

HOUSTON: Activists Say Valid Petition Signatures Fall Short Of Number Needed To Place LGBT Rights Repeal On Ballot

From the Houston Chronicle:
City of Houston officials plan to announce Monday whether a petition submitted by opponents of the city's new nondiscrimination ordinance contains enough valid signatures to force a vote on repealing the measure this November. Opponents claimed to have gathered and verified 31,000 names, but City Attorney David Feldman said Friday many of the more than 5,000 pages fall short of legal requirements set out in the city charter. The final tally likely will be closer than many expected to the minimum threshold of 17,269 signatures, Feldman said. "There's an issue there with respect to the validity of pages," Feldman said. "But right now I don't know what the final count is." Feldman provided no numbers, but said his staff had found many invalid pages, most notably because some of the circulators who collected stacks of signatures were not qualified Houston voters, as required by law. In such cases, all the signatures the circulator gathered would be void, Feldman said. Many names on valid pages also did not belong to registered Houston voters, Feldman said, and some signatures were gathered before June 3, when the ordinance was published and the petition drive could begin.
From JMG reader Mike Craig of Out & Equal Houston:
When the Houston Area Pastors Council turned in 7 boxes of petitions to the City on July 3rd, they boasted of gathering more than 31,000 valid signatures. An independent group of concerned citizens has spent the last three weeks independently reviewing each page of that repeal petition in an effort to provide additional accountability to the referendum process. This was a grass-roots effort involving more than 100 volunteers who communicated via social media and participated in a crowd-sourced effort that uncovered fatal flaws with what was turned in. Having finished this exhaustive review, the HERO Petition Review Working Group concluded that the petitioners did not, in fact, turn in enough valid signatures in order to place this issue on the ballot.

The petition rules are really quite simple:
- Petitions must be properly notarized.
- Petitions must have been signed & notarized between June 3rd and July 3rd.
- Petition signers must be registered City of Houston voters.
- Petition circulators must be identifiable and registered City of Houston voters.
- Petition circulators must have signed the petition, not just the notary affirmation, sometime between June 3rd and July 3rd.

Based on these simple criteria, this independent review showed only 16,499 valid signatures were turned in. Additional scrutiny can only lower that number further. A full report detailing these findings has been provided to the City Secretary, City Attorney and Mayor. While it is our hope that the City’s own determination will come to a similar conclusion, we understand that it is ultimately the legal & statutory responsibility of the City Secretary and we will abide by that office’s findings. Should the city come to the same conclusion that our group did, we fully expect the anti-HERO organizers to sue -- and likely drag us to court as well. If the city does certify the petition effort, I believe that it will be by a razor thin margin -- and as I've said before, HERO supporters will work to make sure that this effort is defeated at the ballot box if and when it gets there.
Houston voters rejected similar LGBT rights bills in 1985 and 2001, but local activists are confident that they will prevail should the issue be forced to a public vote for a third time.

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