Irving’s City Secretary “failed to perform her ministerial duty” when she rejected mayoral candidate Kristi Pena’s application and petition due to what she claimed were invalid signatures, the Fifth District Court of Appeals at Dallas ruled on Monday.

Shanae Jennings’ refusal to accept the signatures and place Pena on the ballot directly conflicted with state election law, the court ruled.

Specifically, the court noted that state statute “does not require any specific form of signature in terms of using formal names or nicknames,” the opinion read. “Nor does it require the signer to use the exact name form shown on his or her voter registration. Rather, as to the signer’s name, the statute requires only that it be the signature of a registered voter residing in the relevant territory for that election. Indeed, the statute expressly permits abbreviated names.”

The court concluded,

Pena complied with all requirements to be on the ballot. Where the refusal to place a candidate on the ballot is outside the candidate’s control and caused by an election official’s failure to perform a ministerial duty, the Texas Supreme Court has consistently held that the candidate should not be punished and should not suffer the consequences caused by the election official’s failure. . . . Here, Pena should not be denied a place on the ballot simply because the City Secretary failed to perform her ministerial duty of accepting the application and placing Pena on the ballot.

The court ordered Jennings to add Pena to Irving’s May 6 mayoral ballot by Thursday and redraw for the order of names on the ballot.

State Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving), who had repeatedly expressed concerns that Jennings was ignoring Texas Election Code, said in response to the court’s Monday ruling:

“Here, the judges enforced the law as written. The statute allows a petition signer to use abbreviations of their name. The secretary disregarded signatures that abbreviated. It was the right result.”

As Texas Scorecard reported last week, Jennings had refused to accept Pena’s mayoral candidate application and petition because five voters’ names on the petition were not an exact match to their voter registrations, an apparent violation by Jennings of the plain language of the law.

In a Feb. 28 opinion, the court agreed that “the City Secretary would have a non-discretionary duty to accept [Pena’s] application in light of uncontroverted affidavit testimony confirming the voter status of the challenged signatures,” but denied Pena’s request for relief on a point of procedure.

Pena’s attorney, Wade Emmert, resubmitted Pena’s application along with the voters’ affidavits to the City Secretary later that day, but Jennings again rejected the application, leading Emmert to refile Pena’s emergency petition with the Dallas Court of Appeals.

After the court granted Pena’s request to be placed on the ballot, Emmert told the Dallas Morning News, “I feel like the court made the right ruling. Any time that you try to keep someone off the ballot and disqualify qualified voters, I think that’s a problem.”

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.