March 25, 2006
Strayhorn sues over petition checking

Carole Keeton Strayhorn has filed suit over how Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams (a Perry appointee) plans to verify signatures on her petition for ballot access.

Texas Comptroller Strayhorn and satirist Kinky Friedman each need to gather 45,540 valid Texas voter signatures by May 11 to get on the ballot in November as independent candidates for governor.

Williams has said he will not begin verifying the petitions until after the May 11 deadline passes.

Williams also has said he will have his staff manually verify each signature instead of using a statistical analysis as has been done in the past. That verification process could take two months and might not be done until just before he must certify the November ballot on Sept. 13.

McClellan invited Friedman's campaign to join the lawsuit.

Friedman spokeswoman Laura Stromberg said the campaign is reviewing the Strayhorn lawsuit and will decide whether to join it next week. She said Friedman is mostly concerned that state law discriminates against independents to favor major party candidates.

"Williams isn't being unfair. State law is unfair," Stromberg said.

Third party and independent petition drive lawsuits in the past have been unsuccessful in Texas. Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader lost a lawsuit challenging the Texas system in 2004.

Once again, I will point out that if Friedman thought the Texas law was wrong, he had an opportunity to formally express that view when Nader sued to overturn it in 2004. He failed to do so. You know the rest.

But independent campaign consultant Linda Curtis of Austin said a Texas Supreme Court ruling in January favoring two Republican Texas Court of Criminal Appeals candidates "could open the door" for a successful lawsuit by Strayhorn.

The court ruled the candidates should have an opportunity to "cure" problems in their ballot petitions even though the deadline for submitting them had passed.

Strayhorn's lawsuit seeks a federal injunction against Williams ordering him to use statistical analysis as a method of petition verification. It also wants him to begin verifying signatures as Strayhorn turns petitions in so she has an opportunity to "cure" any defects before the May 11 deadline.


To be valid, signatures on the petitions must be from registered voters who did not cast ballots in Democratic or Republican primaries or runoffs this year. Also, if someone signs both petitions, only the signature that is dated first counts toward ballot access.

[SOS spokesman Scott] Haywood said that is why a manual count is required.

"Given the fact there are multiple individuals vying for a spot on the ballot as an independent, verifying every signature is the surest way to protect the integrity of our elections and confirm the validity of a candidate's name on the ballot," Haywood said.

I think the SOS argument that the presence of multiple candidates and the need to ensure all the signatures they collected are unique is a reasonable one. As such, I agree with their plan to do a full accounting of each petition.

On the other hand, I presume that the method for doing this will involve entering each name, address, and so on from each petition into a computer so they can be checked against various databases for validity and against the voter rolls from March to ensure they handn't participated in a primary. I further expect that's how they plan to determine if a signer is a repeat customer.

Assuming that I'm not being naive here, and that the SOS plan is not to have some poor sap start at the top of one petition and then scan the entirity of the other to look for a match, then I see no reason why this needs to take so long. Even if I'm wrong about that - indeed, especially if I'm wrong about that - I see no reason why the SOS should feel compelled to wait until May 11 to get cracking. You don't need to know if a signature is unique to check to see if its address is valid or if its owner had already voted. If it were up to me, I'd order him to start processing each petition page as soon as he gets it. I really can't think of a reason why you wouldn't do that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 25, 2006 to Election 2006 | TrackBack

This is going to be one expensive verification operation. Campaigns should do their own pre-checking. If I was an Independent I would check to see if I could have an observer present to see all the grounds they are using for rejection.

What are the chances Kinky Friedman's petitions will be less scutinized?

Posted by: Gary Denton on March 27, 2006 12:32 AM

What are the chances Kinky Friedman's petitions will be less scutinized?

Pretty good, I'd say. Not necessarily on purpose, but anytime you resort to manual verification, there'll be the occasional judgement call. And with partisan Republicans running the process, it's hardly a stretch to believe that the judgements will be more likely to go in Kinky's favor than Carole's.

Other than that, I think it's pretty clear the SoS is stalling, so that if one or both candidates comes up short, there'll be little or no time to challenge his decisions in court.

Verifying a random sample then extrapolating the results could settle the issue quickly one way or the other. And if it didn't, the SoS could still verify the whole petition.

And as Kuff noted, if the SoS insists on doing the whole thing, there's no reason he couldn't start as soon as the gatherers start turning in signatures. The only reason for insisting on these rules is to waste time.

Methinks once again, a partisan SoS is rigging the rules to favor his party. He knows Perry can't lose if Strayhorn's not on the ballot. While this isn't as egregious as Ken Blackwell or Katharine Harris were, it's still a good reason to take the election process out of the hands of partisan officials.

Posted by: Mathwiz on March 28, 2006 3:13 PM