Counted Once, But Not Twice: Petition Signers Want to Know Why - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

7/9/07

Counted Once, But Not Twice: Petition Signers Want to Know Why

Some people who signed a recall petition to oust Lubbock City Councilwoman Linda DeLeon are asking why they were eliminated from the list. The city counted them a first time but then disqualified them during a recount. NewsChannel 11 is taking a closer look at the city's recall process in a two part investigation.

When the recall petition effort started three months ago, the city created the wording for the petition and handed the stack of papers to the organizers. The petition had blank lines where people were to sign and print their names, provide specific information, like dates of birth, voter registration numbers, addresses and the signature date.

But, we found state law that says not all of this information is needed to make a signature valid and questions like those have organizers saying this issue is far from over.

Armando Gonzales is not satisfied with the city's recall petition ruling.  In fact, he's confused about it. 

"She is a registered voter. She has her voter registration card," said Armando about one of the signers.

Armando was one of the petition organizers. He took NewsChannel 11 to three houses to show us why he is confused. Isabel Nieto signed the petition. After the city's first review of the petition, Armando noticed a "seven" heavily printed over another number. It was the month she was born and the city accepted her signature.

However, after a second review, the city threw out Ms. Nieto's signature for "incorrect date of birth."  We were able to see the D.O.B. month went from a "seven" to an "eight."  Ms. Nieto says her I.D. card says July, or seven, but she claims she was actually born in August and she claims to have changed that information in Austin.

"She has lived here for 18 years. She has a right to sign the petition and she has. But the city, through nitpicking and being so stringent, has eliminated her through some fallacy of the record," Armando said.

It seems as though the city may have had a good reason to throw out that signature. But to get a better understanding of the rules for accepting signatures on a petition, we looked it up in the city charter.  It is under the title, Initiative, Referendum, Recall.  It says each signer must use ink and his own handwriting to sign the petition and write down his address in the city, and include "other information as may be required by state law."

So, we took a look at the state law. It says a petition must have a signer's printed name, and the date it was signed. It also says the signer must provide either their date of birth or voter registration number.  A good example of that is Berta Moreno.

"She was OK the first count.  The second count it says ‘incorrect D.O.B.'," said Armando. 

Armando says he wrote in Berta's voter registration number before turning in the petition.  According to state law, should the city have accepted her, despite an incorrect D.O.B.? We called City Secretary Becky Garza to ask her, but both times we called her, she was unavailable to speak to us. 

We had even more questions after talking to another signer, Beatrice Ramirez. She believes she should have been counted too.

"I've got everything, my papers," said Beatrice. And she is upset her name was rejected.

"It is a duplicate because she signed two times. But then it says 'incorrect date of birth'," said Armando.

Beatrice says her nephew filled it out the first time and got the information wrong. She asked Armando to come back so she could sign it again, this time with her correct information. But it appears that the city threw out both names anyway; despite a second signature with what she says was good information.

The city charter lets the City Secretary have the final say-so, even though there are state laws to help guide election offices. But, the only way to challenge the secretary's decision is to take the city to court. 

Remember the city counted the signatures on the recall twice. According to the City Secretary both counts failed to have enough valid signatures and she came up with two different numbers. The first count fell short by 22 signatures, while the second fell short by 41. We never got a direct answer as to why the counts were different.

So, what if the petition was counted a third time? Would the results mirror the city's?

NewsChannel 11 has hired a petition expert out of Austin to take a look at this recall.

John Hatch, with Texas Petition Strategies said, "We were asked by a Lubbock T.V. station to take a look at a recall petition from Lubbock. They needed 494 to make the petition good. And we found through generous interpretation of the laws, we still feel that they...."

We will bring you the results of that audit, including what this expert thinks about the city of Lubbock's process, when part two of this investigation continues Wednesday on NewsChannel 11 at 10.

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