Broze, a 38-year-old independent journalist and activist, started campaigning for City Hall’s top job at the beginning of 2023. In June, the city denied his application to get on the ballot after he self-reported a previous felony record.
In the complaint filed Monday, Broze contended the Texas Election Code’s eligibility rules against all candidates with unresolved felony records are too restrictive. In contrast, he said, the state constitution only excludes individuals convicted of “high crimes” such as bribery, perjury and forgery from holding office.
Broze was convicted of felony drug possession in 2005 when he was 20 years old. A judge gave him two years of probation at the time. He violated parole and was then sentenced to two years in prison.
He was struggling with drug addiction and depression during those years, Broze said, but he has since rebuilt his life and focused on community activism around civil liberties, environmental protection, homelessness and other causes.
His non-violent drug conviction, Broze argued, does not fit the criteria of a “high crime.” The denial of his ballot application stands as a demoralizing reminder that, even after nearly two decades, he still cannot fully participate in society, he said.
“I did my time, paid my debt to society,” Broze told the Chronicle. “Being blocked from the ballot because of having a felony in Texas is just another barrier to entry that felons like myself have to face.”
The state election code specifies that candidates must not have been “finally convicted of a felony” unless they have been pardoned or “released from resulting disabilities.”
Past candidates have argued that completing probation equates to being released from such disabilities. But an opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office asserts that such a candidate would need a pardon, judicial clemency or a writ of habeas corpus invalidating the conviction.
Gerald Birnberg, a constitutional law attorney and ex-chair of the Harris County Democratic Party, said Broze’s case could have far-reaching legal impacts since many points in his lawsuit have not been fully litigated in court.
He agreed with Broze’s argument that his drug conviction should not count as a “high crime” since it does not involve dishonesty, unlike other listed offenses. However, this does not necessarily mean the state constitution prohibits additional laws that extend beyond its specified crimes, Birnberg said.
“At least we could add some clarity to the Texas Election Code,” Birnberg said. “I also believe that we would be well served to have people who have been through that experience as an elected office. That perspective can teach us what it takes to rehabilitate people.”
As the story notes, Broze was able to run for Mayor in 2019 because he filled out that form differently. Broze wrote an op-ed advocating his position after being denied a spot on the ballot this year, after changing how he filled out that form. He cites the case of Cynthia Bailey, in which there was never a decision on the merits of the law, while the story references perennial candidate Brad Batteau, who fills his form out as Broze did in 2019. The takeaway from all this is that the law, and the opinion on the law by Ken Paxton, is unclear. I’m very much on the side of restoring voting rights for felons who have completed their sentences, and that includes eligibility for office. I don’t know what the likelihood of success is here, but I’m rooting for Mr. Broze.