CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -
A last minute change was made on Hamilton County's general election ballot regarding the Chattanooga ordinance that includes extending benefits to domestic partners of city workers.
Friday, the election commission called an emergency meeting to fix an error in the wording of the referendum. That's because for the first time they can ever remember, petitioners, not the city, get to choose how the question is presented to voters.
"We immediately called the printer earlier this week and said we may have to tweak the ballot, please don't start printing," Hamilton County Election Commissioner Chris Clem said.
The Hamilton County Election Commission saved around $40,000 worth of ballot re-prints once discovering an oversight regarding the controversial referendum that, if passed, would offer benefits to the domestic partners of city workers.
"As soon as I saw it, I was concerned because the language on the ballot was not the language on the petition," petitioner Mark West said.
Mark West, with the group Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency lead the charge in petitioning the ordinance last fall after city council passed it.
The Benefits and Equality Ordinance defines domestic partners as an unmarried couple of the same or opposite sex living together and jointly paying living expenses. Also, "they've chosen to share their lives in an intimate and committed relationship."
While many, including the mayor, applauded the approval, several thousand people signed the petition to give voters the final say.
"It was an odd issue. It doesn't come up very often when basically petitioners are allowed to have a referendum vote on the ballot," Clem said.
That's why the commission had the city attorney draft the ballot question, which was a mistake.
"It was very misleading, and confusing at best," West said.
State law allows the petitioners, not the city, to choose the wording. Once discovering that they made the change and sent it back to the printer.
A city spokesperson says their attorneys are still reviewing it. Voters will get their chance to weigh in on the issue, at the August 7th election.
Here's the wording agreed on Friday to appear on the ballot:
Shall the City of Chattanooga's domestic partnership ordinance (Ordinance No. 12781) be adopted?
--- For the Ordinance providing for the extension of benefits in domestic partnerships and adding sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the city's nondiscrimination policy
--- Against the Ordinance providing for the extension of benefits in domestic partnerships and adding sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the city's nondiscrimination policy