I’ve heard there have been legal challenges to the requirement for voter registration numbers, and other signature requirements, such as date of birth and city. What standard should we apply?
Effective September 1, 2005, House Bill 2309 amends Chapter 277.002. The new law applies to petitions filed on or after that date. The petition must have (1) birth date or voter registration number, and (2) the residence address. (Under previous law, the chapter 277 petition was required to have (1) residence address and birth date, or (2) voter registration number.)
Effective September 1, 2005, House Bill 1509 amends Section 141.063 to require birth date OR voter registration number, instead of birth date and voter registration number. This change codifies the following case history.
NOTE: We recommend continuing to apply the case law (striking the VR number down) to any petitions you receive before the statutes become effective on September 1, 2005. We are including the case law history for that reason.
A District Court ruled on September 12, 1997, that the requirement of a voter registration number for a Chapter 277 petition for an election on a measure (proposition) is unconstitutional. (Austinites for a Little Less Corruption! v. City of Austin, United States District Court, Western District, Austin Division, Civil Action No. A 97-CA-120 SS.) Therefore, voter registration numbers are no longer required on local measure petitions. The voter registration requirement has also been declared unconstitutional for petitions for minor party access and for independent candidates seeking ballot access to the November general election ballot, and recently in Fjetland v. Weddington, No. A-02-CA-045-SS (W.D. Tex. Jan. 30, 2002), the U.S. District Court, Western Division struck down the voter registration number requirement for petitions in lieu of filing fee for primary elections.
Also in In re Kevin Bell, No. 02-0034 (Tex. 2002), the Texas Supreme Court held that the inclusion of the city as part of the signer’s residence address was unnecessary on the petition in lieu of filing fee, as long as the rest of the information on the petition establishes that the signer is eligible to sign the petition. In Re Withers v. Commissioners court of Bandera County, No. 04-01-00322-W (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2002), the court held that the exclusion of the signer’s date of birth on a rollback petition did not invalidate the signature. Even though the above mentioned cases are fact specific, there seems to be a movement in various courts having jurisdiction in Texas to move away from a strict conformity review process that our office has always in the past advised petition reviewers to follow, and to move towards a less stringent review process to determine whether a signer is a qualified voter and eligible to sign the petition.
Section 141.063(d) states that omitting a zip code will not invalidate a signature. Therefore, the disputed signatures here are not invalid because they omit that information from the "residence address." Accordingly, we must determine whether the disputed signatures are invalid because they omit the signer's city from the "residence address." Under the Election Code, individuals signing Bell's petition must be registered voters of "the territory from which the office sought is elected." Tex. Elec. Code § 141.063(a)(1). Bell is running for office in Precinct 4, Harris County. Thus, each person signing Bell's petition must be, at the time of signing, a registered voter residing in Precinct 4, Harris County. See Tex. Elec. Code § 11.003.
Bell's petition is a form the Secretary of State promulgated and is used in a variety of elections. The petition has spaces for the following information with respect to each signer: (1) the date of signing; (2) printed name; (3) signature; (4) address (city, state, zip code); (5) county of residence; (6) voter registration number; and (7) date of birth. The only information missing from the disputed signatures is the signers' city and, in some cases, their city and zip code. The disputed signatures contain all other information.For example, all individuals signing Bell's petition indicated that they resided in Harris County. They also provided their printed names, street names and numbers, voter registration numbers, and dates of birth. See Tex. Elec. Code § 141.063(a)(2)(A)-(D).
Bell's petition contains a statement that he is running for Precinct 4. That statement must be read to each individual before they sign the petition. See Tex. Elec. Code § 141.065. Significantly, Bell's petition contains no place for an individual to indicate in which precinct he or she resides. Precinct 4 encompasses parts of more than just one city. Accordingly, a person indicating that he or she resides in Houston, for example, may or may not reside within Precinct 4. Therefore, a signer's city of residence will not aid in verifying that individual's eligibility to vote in this particular election. The signer's residence in the proper precinct is the relevant inquiry.
The way to verify that a signer truly resides in Precinct 4 is to examine the voter registration records maintained in the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector's office. The information provided by each person with a disputed signature -- birth date, street name and number, county, and voter registration number -- is sufficient to allow verification of the signer's voting eligibility for this particular election from the Tax Assessor-Collector's records. Respondents do not contend otherwise. Nor do respondents contend that any verification efforts would be impeded because certain signers did not provide their city of residence.
We therefore conclude that omitting the signers' city of residence from Bell's petition does not undermine the purpose behind the Election Code's "residence address" requirement, because there is enough other information to allow voting-eligibility verification for this particular election. Respondents do not contend that the individuals who omitted the city from their "residence address" do not reside within Precinct 4, which is readily verifiable based upon the information provided. Thus, we conclude that the disputed signatures must be counted, and that Bell's petition is sufficient to entitle him to a place on the ballot. Because of this holding, we need not consider Bell's constitutional arguments.
Now I go back to the Hospital District Attorney with this info asking the following:
From: Paul Harper To: Kevin Reed Subject: RE: Petition Processing
Did you guys look at this ruling when processing the petition?
Also in In re Kevin Bell, No. 02-0034 (Tex. 2002), the Texas Supreme Court held that the inclusion of the city as part of the signer’s residence address was unnecessary on the petition in lieu of filing fee, as long as the rest of the information on the petition establishes that the signer is eligible to sign the petition.
Our situation matches this one, every line had Somervell in it, the city is not the differentiator so those signatures that are missing a city should be counted and not subtracted.
Mr. Harper, in response to your emails. I am aware of the Bell case and my office specifically discussed the Bell case with the Secretary of State's Office. The Bell case involved a different type of petition under a different statute. Sincerely, Kevin Reed
So that is the hospital districts stance...to go against what the SoS office has recognized the courts are saying, to be more lenient instead of more stringent when processing petitions and to go against the Texas Supreme Court finding that the other data is sufficient to validate the registration of the voter and that is the PURPOSE of the processing to start with, not look for a reason to exclude registered voters.
I believe election code 277 deals with ALL Petitions (regardless their type). And all different instances dealing with different statutes may be challenged by petition. In theory ALL PETITIONS ARE HANDLED THE SAME. This Hospital petition is similar to Bell case. Would prefer to read Secretary of State's response to law firm's inquiry in writing. I assume one is available due to SOS documenting all inquiries.
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