Aug 29, 2023 - News

"Stop Cop City" petition's next stop: under the microscope

Illustration of a magnifying glass over John Hancock's signature.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Organizers of the signature drive to force a referendum on Atlanta's public safety training center say they've collected more than 100,000 names. Now comes City Hall's process to make sure at least two-thirds of them are valid and eligible.

Why it matters: An underdog opposition movement has become a well-funded and organized campaign. Mayor Andre Dickens and supporters know that they must be prepared for whatever pushback they bring upon the list of signatures.

State of play: Organizers have not yet submitted the signatures but plan to do so on Sept. 22, Paul Glaze, a spokesperson for the campaign, told Axios.

How it works: Interim municipal clerk Vanessa Waldon will oversee the process. The city also brought back Foris Webb, the recently retired municipal clerk, to help.

  • When the organizers submit their petition, according to city officials, Waldon will count and seal the boxes and place them in a vault in the clerk's office.
  • The clerk's team will scan the documents and create "individual designations for each page." The scans will be publicly available and, once complete, accessible by an Open Records Request.
  • The clerk will then manually check, line by line, against the state voter registration rolls whether the name and other details correspond "to a uniquely qualified Atlanta voter" and whether the signatures "match that of the unique voter." That could include contacting signees with questionable signatures by mail or phone.
  • "Petition lines that do not pass the verification process will have detailed documentation as to the reason for the non-verification status," officials said.

Intrigue: In late August, a coalition of more than two dozen activist groups called the city’s process subjective and “shameful.”

Of note: To count toward the total, a person must have been registered to vote in the November 2021 municipal election and still reside in the city.

By the numbers: 388,205 people met that criteria in 2021, officials said. Organizers will need to have gathered 58,231 of their signatures to force a referendum.

Zoom in: The city has spent roughly $150,000 on legal bills related to the verification process thus far, according to the AJC. Officials expect to pay up to $1 million on the signature validation process and double that in legal fees.

What they're saying: Glaze said petition organizers look forward to working with Waldon but maintain concerns about the verification process, including the lack of neutral observers and the city's hiring of "outside legal agitators."

  • Chris Sautter, an elections expert and American University professor who's assisting the clerk, is from the D.C. area.

Between the lines: Organizers are using the city's words; city and police officials described activists as "outside agitators" after initial raids of the movement's campground on-site.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to show that organizers look forward to working with interim municipal clerk Vanessa Waldon.


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