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Laws governing ballot measures in Texas

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Texas citizens have statewide access to just one of the six common forms of direct democracy--they can ratify or reject constitutional amendments to the Texas Constitution placed on the ballot by the Texas State Legislature. Fifteen states besides Texas afford their citizens just this form of direct democracy on a statewide level; those states are Alabama, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

The rules governing how the Texas legislature can propose a new amendment are set out in Article 17 of the Texas Constitution.

Amending the Texas Constitution

Main article: Amending state constitutions

Joint resolution

For a proposed constitutional amendment to go before the people, the Texas State Legislature must propose the amendment in a joint resolution of both the Texas State Senate and the Texas House of Representatives. The joint resolution can originate in either the House or the Senate. "Joint resolutions cannot be vetoed by the governor."[1]

The resolution must be adopted by a vote of at least two-thirds of the membership of each house of the legislature. That amounts to a minimum of 100 votes in the House of Representatives and 21 votes in the Senate.

Amendments may be proposed in either regular or special sessions.

Joint resolutions endorsing a proposed amendment must include the text of the proposed constitutional amendment and specify an election date. These joint resolutions may include more than one proposed amendment.

"The Legislature has almost complete discretion over when the statewide election is to be held and how the ballot proposition is to be worded."[1]

Ballot number

If more than one proposition is under consideration on a ballot, the Texas Secretary of State conducts a random drawing to assign each proposition a ballot number.


If voters reject an amendment, the legislature can resubmit it. For example, after Proposition 2 was rejected in August 1991, the legislature re-adopted it and re-submitted it for that year's November ballot, where it was approved as Texas Proposition 13 (1991).

Ballot language

The ballot wording of a proposition is specified in the joint resolution adopted by the Legislature, which has broad discretion in this matter. Texas courts have heard challenges to proposed ballot wording but have generally ruled that "ballot language is sufficient if it describes the proposed amendment with such definiteness and certainty that voters will not be misled."[2]

A brief explanatory statement of the nature of each proposed amendment, along with the ballot wording for each amendment, must be published twice in each newspaper in the state that prints official notices. The first notice must be published 50 to 60 days before the election. The second notice must be published on the same day of the subsequent week. The secretary of state must send a complete copy of each amendment to each county clerk, who must post it in the courthouse at least 30 days prior to the election.

The Texas Secretary of State drafts the ballot explanation. This must be approved by the Attorney General of Texas.

Election date

The Legislature may call an election for voter consideration of proposed constitutional amendments on any date, as long as election authorities have sufficient time to provide notice to the voters and print the ballots.

Effective date, if approved

Constitutional amendments take effect when the official vote canvass confirms statewide majority approval, unless a later date is specified. Statewide election results are tabulated by the secretary of state and must be canvassed by the governor 15 to 30 days following the election.

Implementing legislation

"Some constitutional amendments are self-enacting and require no additional legislation to implement their provisions. Other amendments grant general authority to the Legislature to enact legislation in a particular area or within certain guidelines. These amendments require implementing legislation to fill in the details of how the amendment will operate. The Legislature sometimes adopts implementing legislation in advance, making the effective date of the legislation contingent on voter approval of a particular amendment. If the amendment is rejected by the voters, the legislation dependent on the constitutional change does not take effect."[2]

State bonds

"General obligation bonds are a means of using the state's credit to borrow money for a particular purpose . The state pledges its "full faith and credit" as a guarantee that the bond principal and interest will be repaid. Repayment of the bonds has first claim on revenue deposited in the State Treasury. Ar t . 3, sec . 49 of the Texas Constitution prohibits the creation of state debt, with a few minor except ions . In order for the state to use its credit to issue state general-obligation bonds, an amendment to the Constitution specifically authorizing issuance of those bonds must be approved."[1]

Local measures

Local recall

See also: Laws governing recall in Texas

Recall of elected officials is available in Texas but only on a very limited basis. The only elected officials vulnerable to recall are the elected mayors and city council members of the state's home rule (charter) cities. There are about 320 such cities as of January 2011, out of the state's roughly 1,200 cities. Since the rules that govern local recall are established in individual city charters, they vary significantly from one charter city to the next.[3]

Local initiative & referendum

See also: Local ballot measures, Texas

The only political jurisdictions in Texas that have local initiative & referendum are the state's approximately 320 home rule (charter) cities.[4]

School bonds

Main article: School bond and tax elections in Texas

Local school districts can hold school bond and tax elections in Texas under two different circumstances:

  • To issue new bonds for capital improvements, new construction, and facility upgrades.
  • To raise taxes on outstanding bonds.

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 House Research Organization, "1989 Constitutional Amendments," August 29, 1989
  2. 2.0 2.1 Texas Legislative Library description of amendment procedure, p. 3
  3. Scott Houston, general counsel of the Texas Municipal League, stated in an email to Leslie Graves, Ballotpedia's editor, on January 21, 2011 that 90% of the state's home rule cities include recall provisions in their charters.
  4. Texas State University E-Commons, "An Analysis of Texas' Municipal Home Rule Charters Since 1994," John V. McDonald, August 1, 2000, p. 31