Federal appeals court weighing fate of citizen-led ballot initiative seeking to ‘Stop Cop City’

An analysis of petition entries by four news organizations, including WABE, finds it’s unclear whether petitioners have enough valid entries to force the citywide vote, with nearly half the entries unable to be matched to eligible registered Atlanta voters. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Opponents of Atlanta’s controversial public safety training center now await a federal appeals court ruling.

Construction on the 85-acre project that critics call “Cop City” is already underway, while a petition to allow voters to weigh in has been stuck in legal limbo.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling could defeat the effort or help push it forward.

At the Thursday, Dec. 14 hearing, a group of three appellate judges heard arguments on whether to overturn a lower court ruling that gave petitioners an extra 60 days to gather signatures and expanded who could participate.

Robert Ashe, an attorney for the city of Atlanta, which opposes the extension, said the city was not infringing on any First Amendment rights by preventing non-Atlanta residents from collecting signatures.

But the plaintiffs’ attorney, Jeff Filipovitz, says no one will know for sure until the signatures are counted.

City officials have refused to start the verification process pending the court ruling.

A hand count by four news organizations, including WABE, found that about 108,500 signatures were collected, meaning 54% would need to be valid for organizers to be successful.

An analysis of 1,000 random entries shows as many as 53% could be eligible. While that’s below the share needed, a full count could turn up enough eligible signers since the target is within the sample’s margin of error.

However, if the ruling is overturned on appeal, a large number of signatures could be invalidated, likely dooming the effort.

It’s unclear when the court will issue a ruling.