Last week, officials in Houston, Texas rejected a petition meant to challenge the city’s protections for LGBT people, saying that opponents had failed to collect sufficient signatures to advance a referendum to the ballot. Opponents responded by filing suit, claiming that the signatures should have qualified, but a video has surfaced revealing that the signature gatherers knew how to avoid the mistakes that disqualified more than half the signatures they gathered.
Repealing a city ordinance in Houston has what the Houston Chronicle called a “stringent process,” mandated by the city charter. Not only must opponents of a law collect a sufficient number of signatures, but when they do so, only registered Houston voters can actually gather signatures, and they must sign each page of the petition. Any page that is not completed as such is invalid and none of the signatures on the page can count. More than half of the pages of signatures supporting repeal of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) were discounted because they were either not signed or because they were completed by someone who was not a registered Houston voter.
The suit HERO’s opponents have filed challenges the process by which the signatures were counted. When City Secretary Anna Russell first began analyzing the petitions, she only examined the signatures themselves, not the validity of the pages on which they were submitted. Her initial count of 17,846 valid signatures would have been enough to quality the referendum for the ballot. But then City Attorney David Feldman analyzed the pages to make sure they qualify according to the city charter’s rules, and found that they did not. Russell then ultimately agreed that there were not sufficient signatures.
In their suit, they claim that Russell’s initial certification should have been accepted, suggesting that Feldman’s check of the process interfered with their right to petition. In other words, opponents are claiming not that they actually had sufficient signatures, but that they would have had sufficient signatures if they hadn’t been caught breaking rules they knew they had to follow. A video posted by Equality Texas from when opponents were training their signature gatherers shows that they were well aware of the city charter’s rules for the petition. Pastor Dave Welch explained the requirements quite clearly, noting how easily the pages could be rejected:
HERO is not in effect both because Mayor Annise Parker said the city would delay implementation until legal questions are settled and because the judge hearing the case issued a temporary injunction.