Petitions under Chapter 277 of the Texas Election Code

I. Texas Election Code Chapter 277 Petitions

Chapter 277 of the Election Code applies to all election petitions filed under a law outside the Election Code except for a local option liquor election petition and candidates' petitions.

  1. Signature Requirements [Sec. 277.002]
    1. Signer's signature (the only requirement that must be in the signer's handwriting);
    2. Signer's printed name;
    3. Signer’s residence address; AND
    4. Signer’s date of birth OR voter registration number.
      1. Note on date of birth:
        In a recent case In Re Withers v. Commissioner Court of Bandera County; No. 04-01-00322-W (Tex. App.--San Antonio 2002), the appellate court held that the lack of the signer’s date of birth did not invalidate the signer’s signature on a rollback petition since the voter’s registration number and additional information indicated that the signer is a registered voter.
      2. Note on residence address:
        Signer's residence address must include:
        1. Street address OR address at which mail is received, if residence has no address;
        2. City;
        3. State (not required if territory is wholly contained within Texas; and
        4. Zip code (the omission of the zip code does not invalidate a signature).

        NEW LAW: House Bill 3107 (2021) amended Section 277.002 by adding Subsection (f): “The signer's residence address and the address listed on the signer's registration are not required to be the same if the signer is eligible to vote under Section 11.004 or 112.002.” NOTE: This confirms SOS interpretation, which for many years has been reflected in the FAQ.

    5. If the territory from which signatures must be obtained is situated in more than one county, the county of registration.
    6. Date of signing.
    7. Comply with any other applicable requirements prescribed by law.

  2. "Qualified Voter" [Sec. 277.0021]

    Reference to "qualified voter" outside the Election Code means "registered voter" as to the eligibility to sign a petition. "Registered voter" is defined as a person registered to vote in Texas whose registration is effective. A registration is effective 30 days after it has been submitted to the county voter registrar. [Secs. 1.005(16) and 13.143]

  3. Miscellaneous
    1. The signer's signature is the ONLY information that is required to appear on the petition in the signer's own handwriting. All other required information may be filled in by another person. [Sec. 277.002(b)]
    2. The use of ditto marks or abbreviations on a petition does not invalidate a signature if the required information is reasonably ascertainable. [Sec. 277.002(c)]
    3. A petition signature is invalid if the signer signed the petition earlier than the 180th day before the date the petition is filed. [Sec. 277.002(e)]

  4. Computing the number of signatures. "S-list" or "Suspense list" voters are not included in calculating the number of signatures needed. [Sec. 277.0024] However, an S-list voter who meets the requirements voting in the territory could sign the petition if he or she still lives in the affected territory.

    NEW LAW:  This interpretation has now been codified.  House Bill 3107 (2021) amended Section 277.0024 by adding Subsection (b):  “The signature of a voter whose name appears on the list of registered voters with the notation "S", or a similar notation, is considered valid if the voter:  (1)  is otherwise eligible to vote in the territory; and (2)  provides a residence address located in the territory.”

  5. Withdrawal of Signature. [Section 277.0022]
    1. A signer may not withdraw the signature from a petition after the date the petition is filed. Before that date, a signer may withdraw the signature by filing an affidavit with the receiving authority requesting that the signature be withdrawn or deleting the signature from the petition.
    2. A withdrawal affidavit filed by mail is considered filed at the time of its receipt. If the affidavit is received after the petition is filed, then the affidavit has no effect and the signature remains on the petition.
    3. An effective withdrawal acts as if the signer never signed the petition.

  6. Supplementing a Petition. [Section 277.0023]
    1. Generally, a petition may not be supplemented, modified, or amended after the date it is filed.
    2. If a petition is required to be filed by a specified deadline, the petitioner may file one supplementary petition BY THAT DEADLINE if (1) the original petition contains a number of signatures that EXCEEDS the required minimum number by 10% or more AND (2) the original petition is received NOT LATER THAN THE 10TH DAY BEFORE the deadline. The receiving authority must notify the petitioner of the sufficiency of the original petition not later than the 5th regular business day after its receipt.
    3. When calculating the number of signatures for purposes of deciding if the petitioners may supplement the petition, remember that the signatures need not be "perfect" signatures, i.e., complying completely with the law. (The reasoning is that if the petitioners did file a "110%" perfect petition, the petition would not need supplementation and this procedure would be meaningless.)

      NOTE: An example of a petition which must be filed by a specified deadline is a petition for a tax rollback election. [Sec. 26.08, Tax Code]. If the petition is not filed by a statutory date, there is no election on that date that year. This is in contrast to a petition which may be filed at any time, and if granted, the election is called for the next uniform election date or other election date allowing enough time for the election to be conducted in accordance with law.

  7. Frequently Asked Questions And Answers
    1. Is every element of the petition required to be in the voter's handwriting?

      Generally, no. Section 277.002(b) of the Election Code states that only the signer's signature has to be in the voter's handwriting for any petition included within Chapter 277. Chapter 277 applies to all petitions authorized or required to be filed by a law outside the Election Code in connection with an election, other than a local option liquor election petition and candidates' petitions. Most statutes do not expressly require the voter's handwriting.

      NOTE: As with each situation, although the verifier is obligated to apply statutory requirements, the verifier should be careful not to impose higher requirements than the law prescribes.

    2. Can the petition be signed by an agent, as the voter registration card can?

      No. The Election Code provides specifically for the authorized agents who may apply on behalf of a voter for voter registration. A Texas court noted that there was no similar provision for agents to sign petitions, and concluded that the signing of a petition to place a candidate on the ballot was "personal and not delegable." Sparks v. Busby, 639 S.W.2d 713, 717 (Tex. App. -- Tyler 1982, writ dism'd). Most likely, a Texas court would apply this rationale to petitions calling for elections as well. (For the Witness procedure, See Question 4 below.)

    3. Does this mean that a wife cannot sign for a husband, or a husband for a wife?

      Correct. One spouse cannot sign for another.

    4. What if an elderly or voter with a disability wishes to sign a petition, but has difficulty writing?

      Any voter’s signature need not be legible to the verifier, so long as the printed name and other information is legible. That is the purpose of the printed name requirement. As noted above, another person may fill out the rest of the information. In addition, if a voter wishes to sign a petition but cannot do so because of a physical disability or is unable to read and/or write, the petition may be signed by a witness. The voter must affix his or her mark to the petition. If the voter cannot make the mark the witness must state that fact. The witness must affix the witness’s own signature, printed name, and residence address next to the witnessed voter’s signature. [Sec. 1.001, Election Code]

    5. Must the signature be in the same form as that on the voter registration card?

      NO, unless expressly required. The vast majority of petitions do not require this; local option horseracing petitions are examples of petitions having this requirement.

    6. What if the petition is written partly in ink, partly in pencil?

      This does not invalidate the petition, unless indelible marking is expressly required by outside law, which is very rare.

    7. Is the verification process an "open meeting"?

      No, unless specified by outside law. Most laws name an individual verifier. However, if the governing body, as opposed to an individual, is required to accept or reject the petition, such action must occur in an open meeting.

    8. While collecting signatures, can the worker have a person who is not a registered voter fill out a voter registration application, then have the person sign and date the petition?

      Maybe. Virtually all petitions require the signature of a "registered voter," which is defined in the Election Code as someone whose registration has become effective.

      Therefore, someone who has just applied that day will not be able to legally sign a petition until the effective date of registration, 30 days after submission of the application. The most notable statutory exception is the petition in lieu of filing fee, where the signer may sign if they have been issued a registration certificate for a registration which will become effective in the territory on or before the date of the election. [Secs. 1.005(16), 13.143, and 141.063(1)]

    9. I’ve heard there have been legal challenges to the requirement for voter registration numbers, and other signature requirements, such as date of birth and city. What standard should we apply?

      Effective September 1, 2005, House Bill 2309 amends Chapter 277.002. The new law applies to petitions filed on or after that date. The petition must have (1) birth date or voter registration number, and (2) the residence address. (Under previous law, the chapter 277 petition was required to have (1) residence address and birth date, or (2) voter registration number.)

      Effective September 1, 2005, House Bill 1509 amends Section 141.063 to require birth date OR voter registration number, instead of birth date and voter registration number. This change codifies the following case history.

      NOTE: We recommend continuing to apply the case law (striking the VR number down) to any petitions you receive before the statutes become effective on September 1, 2005. We are including the case law history for that reason.

      A District Court ruled on September 12, 1997, that the requirement of a voter registration number for a Chapter 277 petition for an election on a measure (proposition) is unconstitutional. (Austinites for a Little Less Corruption! v. City of Austin, United States District Court, Western District, Austin Division, Civil Action No. A 97-CA-120 SS.) Therefore, voter registration numbers are no longer required on local measure petitions. The voter registration requirement has also been declared unconstitutional for petitions for minor party access and for independent candidates seeking ballot access to the November general election ballot, and recently in Fjetland v. Weddington, No. A-02-CA-045-SS (W.D. Tex. Jan. 30, 2002), the U.S. District Court, Western Division struck down the voter registration number requirement for petitions in lieu of filing fee for primary elections.

      Also in In re Kevin Bell, No. 02-0034 (Tex. 2002), the Texas Supreme Court held that the inclusion of the city as part of the signer’s residence address was unnecessary on the petition in lieu of filing fee, as long as the rest of the information on the petition establishes that the signer is eligible to sign the petition. In Re Withers v. Commissioners court of Bandera County, No. 04-01-00322-W (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2002), the court held that the exclusion of the signer’s date of birth on a rollback petition did not invalidate the signature. Even though the above mentioned cases are fact specific, there seems to be a movement in various courts having jurisdiction in Texas to move away from a strict conformity review process that our office has always in the past advised petition reviewers to follow, and to move towards a less stringent review process to determine whether a signer is a qualified voter and eligible to sign the petition.

      In conclusion, you may wish to contact our office for additional information/advice if one of the above petitions is filed with your county.

    10. The verifier checks a voter’s name and the name is on the "suspense list." Also, the voter has signed the petition, but has written down a different residence address. The new address is in the same political subdivision, and still in the same county. Accept or reject?

      Accept. NEW LAW: House Bill 3107 (2021) amended Section 277.002 by adding Subsection (f):  “The signer's residence address and the address listed on the signer's registration are not required to be the same if the signer is eligible to vote under Section 11.004 or 112.002.”  NOTE:  This confirms SOS interpretation, which for many years has been reflected in the FAQ at this question.

    11. Does one "bad" signature invalidate the petition?

      No. This is a common, but mistaken belief. Most laws require the reviewer to certify that there are either enough signatures or not enough signatures. For example, if there are 100 "good" signatures, and 100 is enough to require the election, it is irrelevant if there are 500 additional "bad" signatures. Most reviewers find it helpful to go through the petition first to count the total "perfect" signatures before spending time on "borderline" signatures.

    12. May we collect signatures digitally?

      No. Electronic signatures are not authorized. Signature must start as an original, non-digital, “wet signature.”

    13. May petitions be submitted by email?

      Yes, the completed petition may be submitted by email to the filing authority; however, we express some cautions. It is important that the petition pages are submitted all at the same time (unless the law authorizes supplementation expressly, as noted above.  We also emphasize that the signature must start as an original, non-digital, “wet signature.”  See above question about digital signatures.

      We further note that Section 1.007 provides for documents filed under the Election Code. A petition for a measure is governed by a combination of Chapter 277 and the outside “source law” for the petition. Before filing the petition, it is advisable to check with the filing authority that they will accept petitions by email, and the email address they want you to use, especially if the petition is created by a city charter. This will also alert the filing authority to check their email in time to alert the petitioners that not all pages have arrived.

      NEW LAW: House Bill 3107 (2021) amended Section 1.007 to expressly add e-mail to the general rule for methods of delivery. This rule applies unless the Election Code provides otherwise.

II. Local Petitions

The focus of this outline is petitions for measures under the requirements of Election Code Chapter 277. We have specific outlines for other types of petitions:

Local Option Liquor Election Petition: Local Option Liquor Elections

Candidacy Petitions. Various publications discuss candidacy petitions. At press time, these include the Candidacy for Local Political Subdivisions outline, the Candidacy for County Chairs outlines, and the most recent Candidate’s Guide (currently 2022). These are linked under the Conducting Your Elections pages, or the Candidate Information webpage, or both.

Last Revised: November 2021