Texas Supreme Court rejects challenges to local ballot language


Highlights

Challengers had alleged bias in ballot wording for CodeNext and efficiency audit petition ordinances.

Lawyer representing petitioners in both lawsuits said rulings end legal challenges to the ballot language.

The Texas Supreme Court on Monday denied calls for changing ballot language on a pair of petition ordinances that will be considered by Austin voters come November.

The court unanimously rejected a challenge related to the CodeNext petition ordinance, which calls for elections regarding comprehensive changes to Austin’s land-use code and calls for a waiting period before implementing any revisions.

Justices split 6-3 in denying a petition calling for new language for Proposition K, which asks if voters favor an outside audit of government efficiency at City Hall.

Former Travis County judge Bill Aleshire represented individual petitioners in each of the suits. Aleshire said Monday there will not be enough time to pursue further legal challenges to the general-election ballot before the Travis County clerk’s office finalizes its language Sept. 4.

At issue regarding the CodeNext petition ordinance was ballot language the Austin City Council approved Aug. 10 that included a statement that the ordinance, if approved, would create a waiting period for implementation of comprehensive zoning changes that lasts as long as three years.

Aleshire and others also objected to wording for Proposition K that listed a cost estimate of between $1 million and $5 million for the efficiency audit, as well as language that stated the audit would not be performed by the city’s internal or its “independent external auditor.”

Mayor Steve Adler said the language was necessary to better inform voters.

“The Supreme Court ruled voters were entitled to have, in the ballot language, critical information that the opponents are trying very hard to keep hidden,” Adler said in a written statement.

With the Supreme Court’s rulings, Aleshire said, voters should familiarize themselves with the actual proposed ordinances instead of relying on ballot language that he called biased.

“The ballot language is just a shorthand description of the proposed ordinances,” Aleshire told the American-Statesman. “If voters take the time to read the proposed ordinances, that is what could go into the city code if voters support it.”

The two proposed ordinances will be part of a ballot that includes congressional midterm elections and elections for four City Council seats, mayor and city bond propositions.

“With this denial, the Texas Supreme Court has confirmed that our ballot language conforms to the legal requirements and represents the key features of both citizen initiated petitions,” a city of Austin spokesman said in a statement.

Aleshire said he believes the rulings show that both petitions lacked a clearly stated “caption.” The Austin City Charter states that the City Council must adopt the caption’s ballot language if one is present.

“The lesson for petitioners in the future is to make sure that there is something that is clearly in the petition ordinance caption,” Aleshire said.



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