Texas conservatives failed to submit enough valid signatures to put Houston's city-wide non-discrimination ordinance up for a public vote in November. Now those conservatives, led by Fox News, are pressuring the city to accept signatures determined to be improperly collected or otherwise irregular in order to “let the people vote” to repeal the measure.
In August, opponents of Houston's recently enacted Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) reportedly submitted more than the seventeen thousand signatures needed to qualify put the measure on the November ballot. However, upon review of the petition under the City Charter, City Attorney David Feldman determined that thousands of the signatures failed to meet the legal requirements set by local and state law for a voter referendum. As explained by the Mayor's office:
“The Charter requirements are in place to ensure a fair and legal process, absent of fraud,” said City Attorney David Feldman. “In this instance, there are too many documents with irregularities and problems to overlook. The petition is simply invalid. There is no other conclusion.”
“I fully expect the petitioners will want to fight this decision at the courthouse,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “I am confident the courts will agree that the rules set out in our Charter and state law to protect the integrity of the process should be followed and that the results of our review will be upheld. The judicial review will provide additional assurance to the voters that the process has been fair.”
On November 2, thousands of conservatives met in Houston at the "I Stand Sunday" rally to demand that the city government allow for a public vote on the ordinance, despite the failure of the repeal petition. The event, which was hosted by the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council (FRC), was widely promoted by Fox News and featured speeches from Fox's Todd Starnes and Mike Huckabee.
At the rally, speakers demanded that the city of Houston “let the people vote” on the ordinance, accusing openly gay Mayor Annise Parker of violating the religious liberty of HERO's opponents by refusing to count their improperly collected signatures:
The event was essentially a rally in support of state-sanctioned election fraud. The city of Houston declared the signatures in question invalid after several weeks of reviewing the thousands of signatures submitted. City Secretary Anna Russell's published a thorough report on the petition effort, finding that over half of the submitted signatures failed to meet the City Charter's requirements to be considered valid. Pages of signatures were disqualified for being improperly notarized, including signatures collected before the allotted start date, and including unregistered and non-Houston area voters:
A public policy analyst helping lead an independent review of the signatures called them a “mess,” adding “they are the worst petitions I've ever seen."
In audio captured by TransAdvocate's Cristan Williams, one petition circulator was found illegally gathering signatures on government property and knowingly accepting a signature from an unregistered voter:
Opponents had a chance to put HERO on the ballot, but they couldn't gather the minimum number of valid signatures required by law. When anti-LGBT conservatives - led by Fox News' culture warriors - demand that the city “let the people vote,” what they're really asking is that the city give HERO's opponents a free pass to ignore its long-established rules for preventing election fraud.