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.
Noel Freeman, who led a volunteer group of ordinance supporters doing their own count, went further, saying the number of invalid pages alone pushes the signatures below the required level.
Freeman, who is treasurer of the Houston GLBT Caucus but said his group was distinct from the caucus, said its count showed almost 3,000 pages were invalid, voiding nearly 19,000 signatures. Assuming all of the signatures on the remaining pages are valid, Freeman said the count stands at 16,499.
“We hope that the city secretary and the city legal department have reviewed the same things we’ve reviewed, consistent with those criteria that the city has laid out, and our hope is that they come to a conclusion that is similar to or identical to the conclusion we came to,” he said.
Remember when the petitions were turned in and the opponents claimed they had gathered 50,000 signatures on them? Yeah, it turns out that was a wee bit of an exaggeration. Now they’re saying that they had only 31,000 signatures that they could verify. That’s a lot less than 50,000 and puts them squarely in the danger zone, since the conventional wisdom is that you need double the minimum required number to feel safe about meeting the validity requirement.
Freeman, whom I emailed with questions about the numbers in this story, said his group gave the opponents credit for 35,452 sigs originally, based on tallying up the numbers written at the bottom of each page, which they presumed was the number of valid signatures the petitioners’ own verification team thought they had on each page. They then knocked out all of the pages that did not meet legal requirements as noted in the story, and that plus the individual invalid signatures that they found on valid pages was enough to get them down to the 16,499 mark. They stopped looking at that point even though there were other valid pages that had not been scoured. Given the likelihood of more invalid sigs on those unexamined pages, plus the fact that the petitioners themselves thought they had some 3,500 fewer sigs to begin with than Freeman’s group assumed, it’s probable that the final tally is even lower.
Outsmart had a look at the petition review process as it was going on.
When it became clear that the opposition would be calling for its repeal, Freeman, along with numerous other community leaders and HERO advocates, developed a strategy to deal with the anticipated petition process. They held several training sessions at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church in the Heights to educate HERO supporters on how to check the petitions and determine whether or not signatures are valid. Over 80 people have been trained thus far, according to Kris Banks, a prominent volunteer who has been active in this process.
Signatures on the petitions can be marked invalid for numerous reasons, including signers not being valid registered voters and petitions not being properly notarized. Banks said that each page of the petition is different, with some containing 15 valid signatures, and others with none. “There are some things that the city secretary won’t be checking for, like fraud and duplicates,” Banks explained. “There are just so many potential issues with these petitions that it really helps to have many eyes looking at them and thinking about what problems there might be.”
Freeman has spent over 50 hours reviewing these petitions, and he plans on reviewing every single one of the 5,199 pages before presenting his findings. During this process, Freeman believes he even discovered a problem with one of the petition pages associated with longtime antigay activist Dr. Steven Hotze.
“We have found a very large number of petition pages that may be invalid because they do not appear to comply with state law,” Freeman said. “One of those pages is a page Steve Hotze both signed and circulated.”
Oh, the humanity! You’d think this gang of chuckleheads might have included a person or two in a leadership role that knew something about quality assurance, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case. Still, it’s up the city to make the call. Not that this will be the final word, of course.
Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly gay mayor of a major American city, has predicted the issue ultimately will find its way to a judge.
“If we say there are enough signatures, I’m assuming we get sued by groups like Mr. Freeman’s who have done their own count and disagree,” she said Tuesday, “and if we say that there are not enough signatures, I’m assuming we get sued by those who passed the petitions.”
Given the petitioners’ inability to do their own accurate count in the first place, that will be interesting to see. How can they claim they have enough valid signatures if they don’t even know how many signatures they turned in? HERO Petition, which had been the host of petition page scans during the validation process but which will transition to being an information site about the process, Buzzfeed, and Lone Star Q have more, and if you need a reminder of what the people behind the repeal effort are all about, see this.
UPDATE: From Facebook: “Not enough valid signatures on petitions to overturn HERO. 15,249 valid. 17,269 needed.” Will have a full report tomorrow.