By Eric Dick
The November 2015 voting cycle in Houston included one ballot result that surprised many: the decision to extend the term limits of city officials from three two-year terms to two four-year terms. The result was so unexpected, it immediately raised controversy, eyebrows, and the question, “Did the voters of the City of Houston actually mean to extend term limits?”
Phillip Paul Bryant filed a lawsuit to invalidate Proposition 2 because he believes the ballot language misled Houston voters. Annise Parker and the City of Houston have a rich history with misleading voters when it comes to ballot language. Indeed in 2015 alone, Texas Supreme Court has found that Annise Parker and the City of Houston have used inappropriate ballot language twice.
On November 3, 2015, registered voters of the City of Houston were asked to vote on several propositions, including a proposition extending term limits (“Proposition 2”). The ballot language for Proposition 2 reads:
- (Relating to Term Limits for City Elective Office) Shall the City Charter of the City of Houston be amended to reduce the number of terms of elective offices to no more than two terms in the same office and limit the length for all terms of elective office to four years, beginning in January 2016; and provide for transition?
The voters of the City of Houston passed Proposition 2 on November 3, 2015.
Phillip Paul Bryant’s attorney argues that the language of Proposition 2 was misleading for several reasons:
- The ballot language suggested that it would “limit” term length instead of extending it from two year terms to four year terms;
- The ballot language read as if it was shortening the total amount of time an elected official could stay in office when it actually extended it from six years to a total of eight or ten years;
- The ballot language omitted a chief feature of the proposition – it suggested that it shortened the amount of times an elected official can serve to two terms when in fact there were hidden exceptions that unfairly benefited incumbents.
“There may have been some voter confusion out there. I don’t know that they realized that they were giving council members more time in office.”
As further evidence that the City of Houston misled voters, the Houston Chronicle reported that the underlying ballot language was obscured:
“Political scientists were not convinced Tuesday’s result was proof of radically shifting attitudes, however. The ballot language did not spell out the effect on incumbents or that the item would loosen the existing restrictions.
‘It was ballot confusion or obfuscation,’ Texas Southern University political scientist Michael Adams said. ‘The way it was written, some people may have thought they were voting to limit the terms rather than extend them to two four- year terms.’
That take made sense to Rice University political scientist Bob Stein, who added, ‘Nobody reads the ballot when they walk in there. They don’t have to read it to vote.’”
In addition, Houston Public Media reported that the ballot language didn’t tell the whole truth:
“’When we informed voters that the adoption of the two four-year (terms) would take place immediately in 2016 and advantage incumbent council members, support swung the other way and it was a deficit of 17 points against,’ Stein said.
But that information was not in the ballot language. In fact, it didn’t even mention that it would actually extend term limits.”
On June 2, 2016, a writ of mandamus was filed with the Texas Supreme Court asking them to invalidate Proposition 2. If you would like clarity as to whether Houston has municipality elections in 2017, please contact the Texas Supreme Court justices and encourage that they rule on the pending writ of mandamus.
They may be contacted by calling:
Nathan Hecht –512-463-1348
John Devine –512-463-1316
Eva Guzman –512-463-1340
Don Willett –512-463-1344
Phil Johnson –512-463-1336
Jeffrey Brown –512-463-3494
Jeffrey Boyd –512-463-1348
Debra Lehrmann –512-463-1320
Paul Green –512-463-1327
You can email them as well:
Eric Dick is an HCDE Trustee and Vice President of the Board of Trustees for HCDE. He is a Christian conservative and also the owner of Dick Law Firm, PLLC which is a boutique law firm that represents policyholders with his or her homeowner’s insurance claim. He can be contacted by emailing [email protected]