Judge rules that DeKalb residents can participate in collecting Cop City referendum signatures

A judge has ruled in favor of a group of DeKalb County residents who want to participate in collecting signatures to put the future of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, which is located in unincorporated DeKalb County and commonly known as Cop City, to a vote.

U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen’s decision, which was announced on July 27, means that any DeKalb County resident can now assist in the effort to gather thousands of signatures required for a referendum to be added to November ballots. The ruling also means that the 60-day timeline in which opponents of the facility must collect approximately 70,000 signatures is reset, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC).

In the lawsuit, filed July 6, plaintiffs Lisa Baker, Jacqueline Dougherty, Keyanna Jones and Amelia Weltner, all listed as residents of unincorporated DeKalb, sued the city of Atlanta because they said they want to “support the current referendum initiative to repeal the city of Atlanta ordinance authorizing the lease and construction of the training center by circulating and collecting signatures on petitions of qualified residents of Atlanta.”

A current Atlanta city code, which requires those collecting signatures to be city of Atlanta residents, bared them from doing so – until Cohen ruled that the city code “imposes a severe burden on core political speech,” according to AJC.

While the ruling will allow DeKalb County residents to collect signatures, it does not allow DeKalb County residents to sign the petition; by law, the petition must meet certain criteria, including that signatures must come from those who were registered to vote in Atlanta in the 2022 election and must come from current residents of the city of Atlanta.

“We are thrilled by Judge Cohen’s ruling and the expansion of democracy to include our DeKalb neighbors,” said Mary Hooks, one of the Cop City Vote Coalition organizers. “Since the launch of this campaign, we have been playing on a field tilted in the city of Atlanta’s favor. Judge Cohen’s ruling is an important step that restores a piece of true agency to those most impacted by Cop City and makes clear that the people’s voice is essential.”

Organizers will now continue their efforts, with an extended timeline, to gather the tens of thousands of signatures necessary to qualify for the referendum process – an effort that Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens recently said he did not believe would be successful.

On their website, copcityvote.com, organizers posted an update on July 24 where they stated they had thus far collected more than 30,000 signatures.

“With volunteers having collected 75 percent of those signatures, we are more than halfway to our goal for volunteer collection,” states the website.

“Volunteers and paid canvassers have collected thousands of signatures from city of Atlanta voters to date and those efforts will continue, now with the participation of non-Atlanta residents,” said Britney Whaley with nonprofit Working Families Power.

For more information, visit copcityvote.com and atltrainingcenter.com.


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