Petition Circulators are not “election officials” subject to the fraud provision of the Election Code says Fort Worth Court of Appeals

 

Robert S. Johnson v. Jeff Williams, et al., 02-19-00089-CV (Tex. App. – Fort Worth, November 27, 2019)

The Fort Worth Court of Appeals affirmed a plea to the jurisdiction in a case where a resident sued to invalidate a charter amendment.

Arlington residents initiated a petition drive for an amendment to the city charter that would impose term limits on the mayor and the city council (Proposition E) which was submitted to the voters and passed.  Arlington resident Johnson asserted that because the petition summary misled petition signers, the petition’s circulators had committed fraud, and the resulting amendment should be struck down. He filed suit to invalidate the provision. The City defendants filed a plea to the jurisdiction and motion for summary judgment, which were granted. Johnson appealed.

Elections are political matters, and the courts have jurisdiction of political matters only if the law has specifically granted such authority.  The Texas Election Code allows an election contest for election fraud only if an election officer or other person officially involved in the administration of the election commits the alleged fraudulent act. The petition circulators do not formally qualify as election officers. After performing a statutory construction analysis, the court determined the circulators also do not qualify as a person “officially involved in the administration of the election.”  As a result, the plea was properly granted. The court declined to allow Johnson the ability to replead. However, the court noted that since the trial court lacked jurisdiction, it lacked the authority to enter an order on the summary judgment.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justices Gabriel, Birdwell, and Womack.  Memorandum Opinion by Justice Birdwell. The docket page with attorney information can be found here.