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Elections and Voter Information

Voter Information

Petitions

I. TEXAS ELECTION CODE CHAPTER 277 PETITIONS

Chapter 277 of the Election Code applies to all election petitions filed under a law outside the Election Code except for a local option liquor election petition and candidates' petitions.

  1. Signature Requirements [Sec. 277.002]
    1. Signer's signature (the only requirement that must be in the signer's handwriting);
    2. Signer's printed name;
    3. Signer’s residence address; AND
    4. Signer’s date of birth OR voter registration number.
      1. Note on date of birth:
        In a recent case In Re Withers v. Commissioner Court of Bandera County; No. 04-01-00322-W (Tex. App.--San Antonio 2002), the appellate court held that the lack of the signer’s date of birth did not invalidate the signer’s signature on a rollback petition since the voter’s registration number and additional information indicated that the signer is a registered voter.
      2. Note on residence address:
        Signer's residence address must include:
        1. Street address OR address at which mail is received, if residence has no address;
        2. City;
        3. State (not required if territory is wholly contained within Texas; and
        4. Zip code (the omission of the zip code does not invalidate a signature).
      3. NEW LAW: Effective September 1, 2005, House Bill 2309 amends Chapter 277.002. The new law applies to petitions filed on or after that date and requires the residence address on all Chapter 277 petitions and provides that the signer must provide either their date of birth or voter registration number. Section 277.002(a) is amended to read as follows:

        (a)  For a petition signature to be valid, a petition must:
        (1) contain in addition to the signature: (A) the signer’s printed name; (B) the signer’s; (i) date of birth [and residence address]; or (ii) voter registration number and, if the territory from which signatures must be obtained is situated in more than one county, the county of registration; [and] (C) the signer’s residence address; and (D) the date of signing; and (2) comply with any other applicable requirements prescribed by law. (b) The change in law made by this section applies only to a petition filed on or after the effective date of this section. A petition filed before the effective date of this section is governed by law in effect when the petition was filed, and the former law is continued in effect for that purpose.
    5. If the territory from which signatures must be obtained is situated in more than one county, the county of registration.
    6. Date of signing.
    7. Comply with any other applicable requirements prescribed by law.

  2. "Qualified Voter" [Sec. 277.0021]

    Reference to "qualified voter" outside the Election Code means "registered voter" as to the eligibility to sign a petition. "Registered voter" is defined as a person registered to vote in Texas whose registration is effective. A registration is effective 30 days after it has been submitted to the county voter registrar. [Secs. 1.005(16) and 13.143]

  3. Miscellaneous
    1. The signer's signature is the ONLY information that is required to appear on the petition in the signer's own handwriting. All other required information may be filled in by another person. [Sec. 277.002(b)]
    2. The use of ditto marks or abbreviations on a petition does not invalidate a signature if the required information is reasonably ascertainable. [Sec. 277.002(c)]
    3. A petition signature is invalid if the signer signed the petition earlier than the 180th day before the date the petition is filed. [Sec. 277.002(e)]

  4. Computing the number of signatures. "S-list" or "Suspense list" voters are not included in calculating the number of signatures needed. [Sec. 277.0024] However, an S-list voter who meets the requirements voting in the territory could sign the petition if he or she still lives in the affected territory.

  5. Withdrawal of Signature. [Section 277.0022]
    1. A signer may not withdraw the signature from a petition after the date the petition is filed. Before that date, a signer may withdraw the signature by filing an affidavit with the receiving authority requesting that the signature be withdrawn or deleting the signature from the petition.
    2. A withdrawal affidavit filed by mail is considered filed at the time of its receipt. If the affidavit is received after the petition is filed, then the affidavit has no effect and the signature remains on the petition.
    3. An effective withdrawal acts as if the signer never signed the petition.

  6. Supplementing a Petition. [Section 277.0023]
    1. Generally, a petition may not be supplemented, modified, or amended after the date it is filed.
    2. If a petition is required to be filed by a specified deadline, the petitioner may file one supplementary petition BY THAT DEADLINE if (1) the original petition contains a number of signatures that EXCEEDS the required minimum number by 10% or more AND (2) the original petition is received NOT LATER THAN THE 10TH DAY BEFORE the deadline. The receiving authority must notify the petitioner of the sufficiency of the original petition not later than the 5th regular business day after its receipt.
    3. When calculating the number of signatures for purposes of deciding if the petitioners may supplement the petition, remember that the signatures need not be "perfect" signatures, i.e., complying completely with the law. (The reasoning is that if the petitioners did file a "110%" perfect petition, the petition would not need supplementation and this procedure would be meaningless.)

      NOTE: An example of a petition which must be filed by a specified deadline is a petition for a tax rollback election. [Sec. 26.08, Tax Code]. If the petition is not filed by a statutory date, there is no election on that date that year. This is in contrast to a petition which may be filed at any time, and if granted, the election is called for the next uniform election date or other election date allowing enough time for the election to be conducted in accordance with law.

  7. Frequently Asked Questions And Answers
    1. Is every element of the petition required to be in the voter's handwriting?

      Generally, no. Section 277.002(b) of the Election Code states that only the signer's signature has to be in the voter's handwriting for any petition included within Chapter 277. Chapter 277 applies to all petitions authorized or required to be filed by a law outside the Election Code in connection with an election, other than a local option liquor election petition and candidates' petitions. Most statutes do not expressly require the voter's handwriting.

      NOTE: As with each situation, although the verifier is obligated to apply statutory requirements, the verifier should be careful not to impose higher requirements than the law prescribes.
    2. Can the petition be signed by an agent, as the voter registration card can?

      No. The Election Code provides specifically for the authorized agents who may apply on behalf of a voter for voter registration. A Texas court noted that there was no similar provision for agents to sign petitions, and concluded that the signing of a petition to place a candidate on the ballot was "personal and not delegable." Sparks v. Busby, 639 S.W.2d 713, 717 (Tex. App. -- Tyler 1982, writ dism'd). Most likely, a Texas court would apply this rationale to petitions calling for elections as well. (For the Witness procedure, See Question 4 below.)
    3. Does this mean that a wife cannot sign for a husband, or a husband for a wife?

      Correct. One spouse cannot sign for another.
    4. What if an elderly or disabled voter wishes to sign a petition, but has difficulty writing?

      Any voter’s signature need not be legible to the verifier, so long as the printed name and other information is legible. That is the purpose of the printed name requirement. As noted above, another person may fill out the rest of the information. In addition, if a voter wishes to sign a petition but cannot do so because of a physical disability or is unable to read and/or write, the petition may be signed by a witness. The voter must affix his or her mark to the petition. If the voter cannot make the mark the witness must state that fact. The witness must affix the witness’s own signature, printed name, and residence address next to the witnessed voter’s signature. [Sec. 1.001, Election Code]
    5. Must the signature be in the same form as that on the voter registration card?

      NO -- unless expressly required. The vast majority of petitions do not require this; local option liquor petitions and local option horseracing petitions are examples of petitions having this requirement.
    6. What if the petition is written partly in ink, partly in pencil?

      This does not invalidate the petition, unless indelible marking is expressly required by outside law, which is very rare.
    7. Is the verification process an "open meeting"?

      No, unless specified by outside law. Most laws name an individual verifier. However, if the governing body, as opposed to an individual, is required to accept or reject the petition, such action must occur in an open meeting.
    8. While collecting signatures, can the worker have a person who is not a registered voter fill out a voter registration application, then have the person sign and date the petition?

      Maybe. Virtually all petitions require the signature of a "registered voter," which is defined in the Election Code as someone whose registration has become effective.

      Therefore, someone who has just applied that day will not be able to legally sign a petition until the effective date of registration, 30 days after submission of the application. The most notable statutory exception is the petition in lieu of filing fee, where the signer may sign if they have been issued a registration certificate for a registration which will become effective in the territory on or before the date of the election. [Secs. 1.005(16), 13.143, and 141.063(1)]
    9. 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.

      In conclusion, you may wish to contact our office for additional information/advice if one of the above petitions is filed with your county.
    10. The verifier checks a voter’s name and the name is on the "suspense list." Also, the voter has signed the petition, but has written down a different residence address. The new address is in the same political subdivision, and still in the same county. Accept or reject?

      Accept. Chapter 277 is silent with regard to the matter of different addresses. The opinion of the Elections Division is that this voter could vote on election day in the affected territory. Because the voter is a qualified voter of the territory, the voter is considered a qualified voter for petition purposes.
    11. Does one "bad" signature invalidate the petition?

      No. This is a common, but mistaken belief. Most laws require the reviewer to certify that there are either enough signatures or not enough signatures. For example, if there are 100 "good" signatures, and 100 is enough to require the election, it is irrelevant if there are 500 additional "bad" signatures. Most reviewers find it helpful to go through the petition first to count the total "perfect" signatures before spending time on "borderline" signatures.

II. LOCAL OPTION LIQUOR PETITIONS

Please note that the Texas Legislature has approved a non-substantive reorganization of the material relating to local option liquor elections. Pursuant to the Act of May 27, 2005, 79th Leg. R.S., H.B. 1799 (2005), Subchapters A, B, and C of Chapter 251, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code will be repealed and recodified as Chapter 501, Texas Election Code. Pending preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice, this recodification will be effective September 1, 2005.

This outline summarizes Texas local option liquor election law as currently codified. We have made every effort to insure the accuracy of this summary outline, but this material cannot substitute for the statutory source material and relevant interpretive case law and administrative regulations. All references are to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code unless otherwise noted.

Article XVI, Section 20 of the Texas Constitution and Chapter 251, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code are specific to local option liquor elections. For historical and public policy reasons, the procedures for these elections differ in many respects from the procedures applied to other petitions and elections. You should not extrapolate or apply the procedures explained here to any other type of petition or election.

NEW LAW: Effective June 17, 2005, Senate Bill 1626 amends Sections 251.11(a) and 251.14(h) by changing the number of signatures required on a local option liquor petition from 35 percent of the voters in the territory to 35 percent of voters in the territory who voted in the most recent gubernatorial election; this standard will now apply to all liquor petitions, except the winery permit ballot issue.

  1. What constitutes a valid signature? (Sec. 251.10)
    1. No signature may be counted unless the signatures:
      1. contain, in addition to the signature:
        1. the signer’s printed name;
        2. the signer’s date of birth;
        3. if the territory from which signatures must be obtained is situated in more than one county, the county of registration;
        4. the signer’s residence address; and
        5. the date of signing;
      2. comply with any other applicable requirements prescribed by law.
    2. the signature is the only requirement that must be in the signer’s own handwriting.

      A signer must have had an effective voter registration in the political subdivision in which the petition is being circulated. The effective date is based on the date the petition was issued. (Sec. 251.10; Sec. 13.143, Texas Election Code)

      NOTE: Texas Attorney General Opinion JM-501 provides that the petition signature requirements of the Code are mandatory, and that the county voter registrar or city secretary has no authority to waive these requirements. Id. § 251.10; Op. Tex. Att’y Gen. JM-501 (1986).

  2. May a name be removed from a petition through the use of an affidavit? [Sec. 251.10].

    Yes. A local option liquor petition signature may be withdrawn by filing a written affidavit requesting the removal with the voter registrar, elections administrator, or city or town secretary, as applicable. The withdrawal affidavit must be filed before the completed petition has been filed. A withdrawal request submitted by mail is considered to be filed at the time it has been received by the filing authority. A valid and timely filed withdrawal affidavit acts as if the signer never signed the petition.

  3. What constitutes a valid residence address?

    The Secretary of State's office has expressed the opinion that it is legally sufficient for a petitioner who does not have a street address to use either his rural route or post office box address as his or her residence address on a petition for a local option liquor election. However, if a petitioner in fact has a street address, he or she must use it and not a business street address, or a post office box address as his or her residence address on the petition.

  4. Is the voter’s registration in a city still valid if he or she has moved within the city, but has not updated his or her voter registration record, and will this voter’s signature be counted?

    The Code does not require the residence provided on the petition to be identical to the one listed on the official voter registration list provided to the city or county for conducting the election, as applicable; however, the person must be eligible to vote within the incorporated city’s or county’s boundaries. Accordingly, if the voter lists a different address from the address at which he or she is registered, the signature is valid as long as the address is still within the city or county, as applicable.

  5. Does the address on the petition have to list the state or zip code in order to a valid address for the purpose of signing a local option liquor petition? (Sec. 251.10)

    No. The omission of the state from the signer’s residence address does not invalidate a signature unless the political subdivision from which the signature is obtained is situated in more than one state. Also, the bill provides that the omission of the zip code from the address does not invalidate a signature.

  6. Does ditto marks or abbreviations invalidate a local option liquor petition signature? (Sec. 251.10)

    No. The use of ditto marks or abbreviations on a petition does not invalidate a signature so long as the required information is reasonably ascertainable.

  7. How long may a petition be circulated? [Sec. 251.11]

    A petition must be filed no later than 60 days after it is issued. If the 60th day after the petition is issued falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the petition may be timely filed on the next regular business day.

  8. To whom is a completed petition to be submitted? [Sec. 251.11]

    Petitions are to be submitted to the county voter registrar; in counties that have an elections administrator, petitions are submitted to the administrator. For a city that is located in more than one county, the petitions are filed with the city or town secretary.

  9. What is the deadline for the voter registrar, elections administrator, or city or town secretary, as applicable, to verify the petition signatures? [Sec. 251.11(a)]

    A valid petition must be presented to the commissioners court or city council, as applicable, at its next regular session on or after the 30th day after the date the petition was filed with the voter registrar, elections administrator, or city or town secretary, as applicable.

  10. Who is responsible for verifying the signatures on the petition? [Sec. 251.10]

    Generally, the county voter registrar is responsible for verifying petition signatures. In counties which have an elections administrator, petitions are verified by the administrator. If the city or town is located in more than one county, the city or town secretary is responsible for verifying the signatures. (Sec. 251.10).

  11. Can a statistical sampling method be used when verifying a local option liquor petition? [Sec. 251.10]

    Yes. The political subdivision may choose to use a statistical sampling method when verifying petition signatures. A citizen from the political subdivision in which the petition is being circulated may file a written request that each signature be verified. The citizen making the request is responsible for the cost of verifying each signature. If a valid request is made, the voter registrar, elections administrator, or city or town secretary, as applicable, shall verify each signature.

  12. If the petition is not valid, does it still have to be presented to the commissioners court or city council, as applicable? [Sec. 251.13)]

    Yes. Regardless of whether the petition contains the required number of signatures, it must be recorded in the minutes of the commissioners court or city council, as applicable. The minutes shall reflect the date a petition is filed with the voter registrar, elections administrator, or city secretary (as applicable), the names of the signers, and the action taken with respect to the petition. Please note that it is the opinion of the Secretary of State that a reference to the signers’ names contained on the petition is sufficient.

III   PETITIONS FILED IN CONNECTION WITH CANDIDATE’S APPLICATION FOR A PLACE ON THE BALLOT

  1. A candidate's application for a place on the primary ballot or declaration of write-in candidacy must be accompanied by a filing fee or a petition in lieu of the filing fee. (Sec. 172.021(b)). Independent candidates must file a supporting petition, along with their independent applications.
  2. Candidates for the State Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals, who file for office and choose to pay the filing fee must file a petition with at least 50 signatures from each Court of Appeals District in the state. (Sec. 172.021(g)).
  3. Candidates for Court of Appeals in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 14th Districts, and all candidates running for judicial offices in Harris, Dallas, Bexar, and Tarrant, for a place on the primary election ballot must file a supporting petition of 250 signatures, in addition to either the filing fee or petition in lieu of filing fee. (Sec. 172.021 (e) & 172.024(a)(8), (10) , (12))

    NEW LAW: Effective September 1, 2005, House Bill 964 amends Section 172.024(a) of the Election Code by essentially adding 3rd Court of Appeals (Travis County) to the higher filing fee bracket of $2,500 from $1,875 for the court of appeals positions. Note: because the population bracket of 850,000 was not modified in Section 172.021 of the Texas Election Code, the additional 250 signature judicial petition normally required of candidates in this higher filing fee bracket, does not apply to the 3rd Court of Appeals candidates.
  4. Validity of Petition Signatures (Sec. 141.063)

    For a signature to be valid, the signer must be a registered voter of territory from which the office sought is elected, or has a registration certification that will be effective by election day.
    1. Signature Requirements:
      1. signer’s signature (the only requirement that must be in the signer’s handwriting);
      2. the signer's printed name;
      3. the signer's residence address;

        Note: 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.
      4. the signer’s date of birth OR the signer’s voter registration number and, if the territory from which signatures must be obtained is situated in more than one county, the county of registration;

        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.
      5. signer’s voter registration number;

        Note: 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.
      6. the county of voter registration, if the territory from which the signatures are obtained from is located in more than one county; and
      7. the date of signing.
      8. The use of ditto marks or abbreviations does not invalidate a signature if the required information is reasonably ascertainable.
      9. The omission of the state from the signer's residence address does not invalidate a signature unless the political subdivision from which the signature is obtained is situated in more than one state. The omission of the zip code from the address does not invalidate a signature.

        NOTE: Even though the above mentioned eases 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 a move towards a less stringent review process to determine whether a signer is a qualified voter and eligible to sign the petition. You may wish to contact our office for additional information/advice if one of the above petitions is filed with your county.
  5. Restrictions on Petition Signer (Sec. 141.066)
    1. A person may not sign the petition of more than one candidate for the same office in the same election.
    2. A signature on a candidate's petition is invalid if the signer signed the petition subsequent to his or her signing a petition of another candidate for the same office in the same election.

      EXCEPTION: A person who has signed a petition for a candidate in the primary election may also sign a petition for a write-in candidate for the same office in the November election.
    3. On signing a petition to be filed by a candidate affiliated with one party, the signer becomes ineligible to vote in a primary election or participate in a convention of another political party during the voting year in which the primary election is held. A voting year is the 12-month period beginning January 1 of each year. (Secs. 1.005(23) and 172.026)