Laws governing local ballot measures in Texas
This article sets out the laws governing local ballot measures in Texas. It explains:
- Which local units of government make the initiative process available to residents.
- How and whether local units of government, including school districts, can refer local ballot measures (such as school bond propositions) to the ballot.
- An overview of laws governing local recall elections.
Types of local government
Local government in Texas consists of 254 counties and 1,214 cities. In addition, there are 2,309 special districts and 1,079 independent school districts.
Cities in Texas are classified as:
- Home rule charter city: of which there are 352
- General law city (which may be Type A,B, or C): of which there are 862
|A guide to local ballot initiatives|
- See also: School bond and tax elections in Texas
Texas is different from other states as they only do elections to issue new bonds or to raise taxes on current bonds. Texas is one of a few states that do not set caps on property tax levies. Texas is one of the least restrictive states in the nation on how school districts can place measures on the ballot.
Local recall rules
Recall of local elected officials in Texas is available only in political subdivisions that have their own charter, and only if their charter specifically authorizes recall of the local elected officials.
Texas has about 1,200 cities and 352 of those cities have their own charter. In the terminology of the state, these are known as the "home rule cities." To become a "home rule city" or a "charter city", the population of the city must be over 5,000 and its voters must have held an election to adopt a home rule charter. Over 90% of the state's home rule cities, or close to 320 of them, do include a local recall provision.
Because recall is defined individually only in specific local charters, and is not defined in state statutes or the Texas Constitution, the laws that govern the available procedures, such as how many signatures are required to force a recall election, can and do vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction within the state.
- For additional detail, see: Laws governing recall in Texas
Campaign Finance Rules
Initiative process availability
|Local I&R Laws in the 50 States|
|Source:Local Ballot Initiatives: How citizens change laws with |
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There is no statewide initiative process set for general law cities. As creatures of state statute, general law cities do not have authority to adopt initiative elections on their own.
Initiative is only available in charter cities. State statutes mandate an initiative process for citizens to propose charter amendments through petition. Charter cities also have authority to permit an initiative process for ordinances. The top 10 most populated cities in Texas all operate under a home rule charter. 9 of the 10 (all except Arlington) authorize initiative for ordinances. 
There are no explicit constitutional provisions for local initiative. However, TX Const. Article 11, Section 5 grants municipal home rule power to cities over 5,000 in population that adopt a charter.
TX Local Govt. Sec. 9.004 authorizes an initiative process for charter amendments.
See law: TX Local Govt. Sec. 9004
Initiative process features
Initiative in the top 10 most populated cities
|List of Most Populated Cities in Texas|
|City||Population||City Type||Next election|
The top 10 most populated cities in Texas are all governed under a home rule charter. Initiative is available for charter amendments as provided above. 9 of the 10 allow initiative for ordinances (Arlington has not authorized ordinance initiative). The provisions below come from the specific city charter or code. TX Election Code Chapter 277 contains general provisions on petition signature validity.
- The U.S. Census Bureau's 2012 study of local governments
- 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.
- Texas Municipal League Handbook, Chap. 1 Local Government
- Ballotpedia: Types and #'s of local government by state
- US Census Bureau "City and Town Totals: Vintage 2011 (Population figures as of 2011 Census estimates)
- US Census, "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places in Texas: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011," accessed on October 30, 2014