Lawyer Andy Siegel, who led the opposition to the Dallas referendum, promised to file a suit to get the results of the beer and wine referendum overturned.
“The pro-wet folks simply failed to get enough qualified voter signatures on petitions to lawfully put this on the ballot,” Siegel wrote in an e-mail. Backers of the propositions said they had plenty of signatures.
And file suit they did, almost immediately after the election. The crux of the dispute:
In May, the group Progress Dallas turned in a petition to force the election. They needed 68,846 signatures to force the initiative onto a citywide ballot.
About 9 p.m. on June 23, the deadline for the Dallas city secretary to validate the signatures, City Secretary Deborah Watkins declared that the petitions contained “sufficient signatures to qualify as valid,” prompting the City Council to call the election. Watkins’ office had worked through that afternoon checking the signatures.
Watkins only later gave the actual number of valid signatures, which was 69,702. It was a number with much less breathing room than the pro-alcohol expansion forces had hoped for.
Meanwhile, Siegel has asserted the election was improperly called. He references the Texas election code, which says the city secretary is to certify to City Council “the number of qualified voters signing the petition,” not just the fact that there were enough.
The lawsuit contends that Watkins’ office failed to correctly certify the number of qualified voters who signed the petition. It also asserts that city officials failed to differentiate between the city as a whole and historically dry political subdivisions.
“By doing so, the City failed to count legal votes for an election to change the dry status previously elected by historic dry voting units,” the lawsuit alleges. “Moreover, the City Secretary and City Council unlawfully disenfranchised and prevented those qualified voters currently resign in historic dry voting units…”
Some other issues came up at a pretrial hearing:
Watkins took the stand Tuesday, and [plaintiff's attorney Leland] de la Garza questioned her about her office’s procedures for verifying the signatures. One subject of contention was whether her office verified whether the signatures were from “qualified” voters or “registered” voters.
De la Garza argued that the law makes important distinctions between the two. Watkins saw it differently.
“They mean the same to me,” she said.
After declining to halt the issue of permits for alcohol sales that are now legal under the referendum, the judge set a date for trial.
Fannin County District Judge Laurine Blake, who has been specially appointed to preside over the case, set it for Sept. 12.
The judge also boiled the case down to the debate over whether Dallas City Secretary Deborah Watkins’ office properly verified and counted the signatures on the petition that forced the election. City attorneys had been trying to get that part of the case thrown out on jurisdictional grounds before trial, but capitulated that fight this morning by withdrawing their plea.
“That was a surprise,” one of the attorneys fighting the election, Leland de la Garza, said after the hearing.
The judge did give city attorneys one victory, agreeing as they had contended that she not have authority to hear another issue, whether the election disenfranchised historically dry political subdivisions such as Preston Hollow.
As someone who would have voted for that proposition had I lived in Dallas, I’m rooting for the city to prevail. I’m also very interested in that question of “qualified” versus “registered” voters, which I could see potentially having a big effect on future referenda. Any lawyers out there want to weigh in on this?