Shipman wants a more transparent ballot referendum process, 'Stop Cop City' signatures still in legal limbo

Activists haul dozens of boxes full of signed petitions to Atlanta City Hall, Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, to force a referendum on the future of a planned police and firefighter training center. Shortly after, though, Atlanta officials refused to accept the paperwork for processing, saying the city is awaiting a court decision over whether the petitions had been turned in on time. (AP Photo/R.J. Rico)

The city of Atlanta’s clerk’s office has yet to begin counting and verifying roughly 116,000 signatures of presumed registered voters in protest of constructing the city’s planned public safety training center — dubbed “Cop City” by opponents. That’s as the referendum process is still in legal limbo, pending a federal appellate court ruling regarding some of the issues around timing.

In the meantime, the Atlanta City Council unanimously approved scanning and posting digital copies of the signatures online so everyone can see what those petitions contain.

Mayor Andre Dickens and the city have supported allowing the process to run its course in a transparent manner. 

But outside of the legal process, WABE’s “Morning Edition” asked Atlanta City Council president Doug Shipman what’s needed on the city level to calm the impending storm and backlash.

Shipman tells WABE that in the future, he wants the council to go back and update city codes to make the petition process more transparent and clear.

“One clear policy recommendation that I have: We should really consider having petitioners in the future put down either a driver’s license number, passport number, or some government-issued ID,” Shipman said.

“That would actually take a lot of the pressure off of using the signatures. That’s one small policy change that I think would make a much better process.”

This comes as the 61 people charged with racketeering over alleged violent efforts to stop the construction are expected to be arraigned in November. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr indicted the group in early September — most charged are from out of state.

Atlanta police and Georgia State Troopers have clashed with demonstrators at the planned site in the South River Forest for the last two years. A 26-year-old protester named Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, also known as Tortuguita, was shot and killed by law enforcement during a clearing of the woods in January.