News (USA)

Opponents of Houston LGBT ordinance may fall short of qualifying for ballot

Houston city officials say they will announce Monday whether opponents of the city’s new LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance have obtained enough valid petition signatures to force a ballot referendum aimed at repealing the measure.

Opponents of Houston's equal rights ordinance deliver boxes to the City Secretary containing thousands of signature calling for a ballot referendum.
Opponents of Houston’s equal rights ordinance deliver boxes to the City Secretary containing thousands of signature calling for a ballot referendum. KTRK-TV

But already, City Attorney David Feldman is hinting that many of the petitions submitted don’t meet legal requirements set out in the city charter and the effort could fall short of qualifying for the ballot.

The Houston Chronicle reports that although opponents of the ordinance claimed to have gathered and verified 31,000 names, Feldman said Friday the final tally likely will be closer to the minimum threshold of 17,269 signatures.

“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 said his staff had found many invalid pages, most notably because some of the circulators who collected 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, said the number of invalid pages alone pushes the signatures below the required level.

He said his group’s 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.

Last week, an anonymous group set up a website and published copies of the more than 5,000 pages of the petitions, making public the names and addresses of the 31,000 people who signed the petition.

The group said it published the petitions to allow the public “to participate in an independent review of the petition” and to identify fraud or other improper activity.

Now that their independent review has been completed, The petitions have now been taken offline. Freeman said he was not behind the website, but knows who is.

The ordinance was approved by the city council on May 28, and consolidates city bans on discrimination based on sex, race, age, religion and other categories and increases protections for gay and transgender residents.

Supporters, including Mayor Annise Parker, said the measure is about offering protections at the local level against all forms of discrimination in housing, employment and services provided by private businesses such as hotels and restaurants.

Debate over the measure has focused largely on provisions regarding rights for gay and transgender citizens.

Parker, who is openly gay, said passing the ordinance was not the most important thing she has done in office but the “most personally meaningful thing I will do as mayor.”

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