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Still counting HERO repeal petition signatures

After more than a month, we finally have an update on the signature counting from the HERO repeal petition trial.


The first publicly disclosed tally since the heated trial surrounding the city’s equal rights ordinance wrapped up last month leaves opponents of the law about 3,000 valid petition signatures shy of triggering a repeal referendum, though 8,500 more signatures are still in question and will decide the case.


For the past month, attorneys on both sides have been counting signatures using [Judge Robert Schaffer]’s rulings. As expected, they have come to different conclusions; the city contends the opponents again failed, while opponents say they have plenty more valid signatures than they need.

But attorneys on both sides agree that the legibility of circulator signatures on certain pages, affecting 8,500 total signatures, will now decide the case.

The plaintiffs argue that legibility should not be a factor.

“We can’t empower the government with the right to be the judge, jury and executioner on whether somebody has a right to vote based on penmanship,” said Andy Taylor, attorney for the plaintiffs.

The city, however, contends that if they can’t determine who a circulator is based on their signature or printed name, all the other signatures collected on that page should be discarded, per city charter and the judge’s ruling.

“The plaintiffs are mounting every desperate challenge they possibly can to try to overcome the effect of the jury’s verdict and the effect of the judge’s post-verdict rulings,” said Geoffrey Harrison, lead attorney for the city. “The plaintiffs lost at trial. They lose on the law. They lose on the facts. But they are prolonging this process by refusing to accept reality.”

Taylor said he’s reviewed the signatures thrown out on legibility grounds, and he believes the judge will agree with him that many are legible.


It was Schaffer’s ruling several weeks ago that further complicated the case. More than one month ago, the jury found that many high-volume signature-gatherers made mistakes in signing and subscribing the pages they collected, often failing to both print and sign their names at the bottom of the page. After that ruling, city attorneys said barely more than 2,000 petition signatures were valid.

But Schaffer’s ruling was more lenient, requiring only a legible signature or printed name. Under that interpretation, Harrison said the plaintiffs now have between 14,000 and 15,500 valid signatures, still shy of 17,269.

See here for the background, and here for Judge Schaffer’s ruling. Basically, the city is not counting any of these 8,500 signatures because the circulators’ names are illegible. If they were counted, that may put the plaintiffs over the top; the plaintiffs certainly think so. Via HouEquality, the plaintiffs filed a post-trial motion arguing that these circulators’ signatures could be determined by comparing them to petition signatures elsewhere, or if all else failed by tracking down the notary public affidavit for them. They concede that could cause time issues, since the city has 30 days to validate the signatures, and it’s not clear that the city is required to take such a step. For that matter, it’s also not clear that the city is required to do the detective work of comparing hard-to-read circulator signatures to petition signatures to try to find a match. If these circulators had printed their names in addition to scrawling them like they were supposed to, this wouldn’t even be an issue. Judge Schaffer’s ruling that either a signature or a printed name is sufficient is why we’re here arguing over how to tell whose chicken scratch belongs to whom. The plaintiffs argue in their brief that they were able to match signatures to other signatures in pages representing over 8,000 of the 8,510 that are still in limbo. Now it’s back to Judge Schaffer to decide, and he says he’ll have a ruling in early April. Given the forgeries and other problems that had been found before, I’m not sure how much more benefit of the doubt these guys deserve. We’ll see what the judge thinks. KUHF and Hair Balls have more.

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