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Term Limits Lawsuit Against City Of Houston Not The First Controversy Over Ballot Language

The city of Houston is again being sued over a ballot measure. This one doesn’t come as a surprise to some.


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Eric Dick
Florian Martin
Attorney Eric Dick has filed a lawsuit alleging the city misled voters with the ballot language on changing term limits.

Voters approved changing the time the city's elected officials can serve from three two-year terms to two four-year terms.

The lawsuit by a resident who opposes the term limit change alleges the city misled voters, because it wasn't clear that a for-vote meant extending term limits.

Attorney Eric Dick filed the lawsuit. He's asking the court to invalidate the vote.

"The language itself is written like it's a pro-term limit instead of an anti-term limit," Dick said. "And that's the way the city wrote it on purpose because the fact of the matter is voters want elected officials to be held accountable."

The proposition asked voters if the number of terms should be reduced to two, and length of all terms limited to four years.

That's not incorrect. But it leaves out the fact that before the vote, council members had to run again after two years, for a maximum of six years in office.

The maximum is now eight years. And some incumbent council members even have the chance to serve 10 years in office.

The lawsuit also references a recent Texas Supreme Court ruling against the city regarding the language in a 2011 referendum on establishing a citywide drainage fund.

"If people were claiming that the drainage fee ballot language was misleading, I think in the case of the term limit language, it was very misleading," Rice University political scientist Bob Stein said.

He pointed to the News 88.7/KHOU 11 News election poll.

"When voters were fully informed about what their choices were they were, in our survey at least, overwhelmingly opposed to this change," Stein said.

Voters approved the measure by a two-to-one margin.

In a statement, city spokeswoman Janice Evans says that shows people understood what they were voting for.

The suit claims that Parker's administration has a history of misleading ballot language, mentioning a Texas Supreme Court decision ordering the city to change the language for the referendum on the equal rights ordinance.

Stein said it's difficult to compare that to previous administrations because they haven't had as many ballot initiatives.

"But I think this administration has had probably – and this council – more experience with it and less successful experience than previous administrations," he said.

Dick, the attorney, argues voters would have voted against the term limit change had the language been clear.

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