'Stop Cop City' activists delay plan to turn in over 100K signatures

After announcing a plan to turn in more than 100,000 signatures Monday in an effort to put Atlanta's controversial public safety training center on the ballot, ‘Stop Cop City’ activists now say they will hold off on turning over their petition. They say they don’t like the way the city plans to go about verifying the signatures.

Hundreds of people — many volunteers, some paid — have spread out across the city of about 500,000 since July in hopes of persuading more than 70,000 registered voters to sign on to the petition drive. Monday morning, the Vote to Stop Cop City Coalition say they collected 104,000 signatures and say they'll keep fighting.

Technically, organizers say they need just 58,203 signatures to qualify for the November ballot — the equivalent of 15% of registered voters as of the last city election — but they set the higher goal knowing some will be disqualified.

A few hours after their announcement, City of Atlanta officials outlined the step-by-step process they'll be using to verify each of the signatures:

  1. Petition Intake Process: Interim Municipal Clerk Waldon will review the petition and confirm the amount of signature pages it contains. The petition will then be sealed in front of the organizers and placed into a secure vault housed at the Clerk's office.
  2. Scanning/Processing: Each petition page must be digitally scanned, one-by-one. Organizers will receive a copy of the scans. The electronic document will then be uploaded to an online database where it can be searched and viewed by the public. The original petition will continue to be stored at the municipal building.
  3. Review/Verification: Once each page has been scanned and uploaded, each signature must be reviewed and matched to a qualified, registered, Atlanta voter. This step is done manually and there will be a second set of eyes that re-checks every form. Any signature that doesn't match will receive a detailed, documented reason for the non-verification status.
  4. Additional Public Comment/Inquiries: The City will not comment on the review process once it has been completed. All pages will be made available to the public upon request under the Georgia Open Records Act.

If the threshold is not reached until late August or September, the referendum wouldn’t happen until March, when a competitive GOP presidential primary could turn out conservative voters and hurt its chances. The city also could move forward with construction in the meantime, unless a judge intervenes.

"We were ready and fully prepared to submit the signatures," said Brintey Whaley, Southeast Regional Director for Working Families Power, an arm of Working Families Party. She says the city’s plan to certify the petition was too vague.


(Vote to Stop Cop City Coalition)

"It’s an unscientific process," said Stephanie Jackson Ali, Policy Director for voting-rights group New Georgia Project Action Fund. "The signature match process amounts specifically to voter suppression."

"People’s signatures from different times are matched from when you first got your driver’s license to when you filled out that form," Ali continued. "So you’re going [to] find people who mismatch their own signature."

A city official says there is no voter suppression or exact-signature match. The official says the city will make digital scans of the petition available to ensure transparency.

Organizers of the drive say Mayor Andre Dickens and the City Council have failed to listen to a groundswell of opposition to the $90 million, 85-acre training center, which they fear will lead to greater militarization of the police and exacerbate environmental damage in the South River Forest in a poor, predominantly Black area.

Officials counter that the campus would replace outdated, far-flung facilities and boost police morale, which is beset by hiring and retention struggles, especially in the wake of 2020 protests over racial injustice. Dickens has said that the facility will teach the "most progressive training and curriculum in the country" and that officials have repeatedly revised their plans to address concerns about noise pollution and environmental impact.

In June, after hearing about 14 hours of public testimony that was overwhelmingly against the training center, council members voted 11-4 to approve $67 million toward the project. Outraged but not surprised, organizers of the petition drive announced it the next day.

The signature drive is the most ambitious in terms of numbers that has ever been launched in a Georgia city, but it has precedent from last year in Camden County, where voters overwhelmingly rejected a planned launchpad for blasting commercial rockets into space. The Georgia Supreme Court in February unanimously upheld the legality of that referendum, though it remains an open question whether citizens can veto decisions of city governments.

In a recent court filing seeking to quash the Atlanta referendum, attorneys for the city said residents can’t force officials to retroactively revoke the lease agreement, which was made in 2021. They called organizers’ efforts "futile" and "invalid." The state agreed with the city in a separate filing, though that dispute is on hold for now.

The coalition has not set a new date for when they’ll submit the petition. But they hope to get it on the March ballot. They say they plan to continue collecting signatures until the deadline extension granted by a federal judge through September.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.