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Atlanta Refuses to Verify, Count Petitions Seeking ‘Cop City’ Vote

The city of Atlanta has refused to begin counting and verifying petitions signed by 116,000 registered voters to put on the ballot the question of whether a controversial police and fire department training center known as “Cop City” should be built, according to The Guardian. The move was backed by a legal memo from lawyers hired by the city, citing an active court case, after dozens of activists and Atlanta residents delivered the petitions to city hall on Monday. At issue is the question of when Atlanta residents could vote on the Cop City project if enough signatures are verified. Work on the project continues on a 171-acre footprint in the South River forest, southeast of Atlanta. The training center would be the largest of its kind in the U.S. The city’s move surprised activists and at least one member of the city council, Liliana Bakhtiari, whose district is one of two closest to the forest. “I’m livid,” Bakhtiari said. “How can we expect people to have any faith in the democratic process when they keep moving the goalposts?”

The city’s approach “is part of a broader trend we’re seeing across the country, where those in power are trying to stop ballot initiatives”, said Emma Sharkey of the Elias Law Group, a voting rights firm. In the nearly 12 weeks since the referendum was launched, Atlanta has been “throwing everything to see what sticks”, Sharkey said, including the notion of matching voter signatures on the petitions to previous signatures on file. Found unconstitutional in litigation elsewhere, the city's actions led referendum organizers to write a letter to Atlanta’s Carter Center, asking it to monitor the city’s handling of the petitions. Other obstacles from the city include: delaying or denying approval of the petition’s format three times in two weeks due to minor issues such as including a line for witnesses to sign, giving organizers less time to gather the signatures needed to get the question on the ballot for a November election; and an appeal by the city to a federal court’s decision allowing people from neighboring DeKalb County to gather signatures for the petition, even though they can’t sign it and can’t vote on the question. Sharkey said continuing opposition from the city could influence efforts elsewhere, especially in the south. “Since we haven’t seen as many referendums in the south, this could dissuade activists in other places from trying to use this mechanism to make change. That would be a shame.”


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