We all know that when it comes to voter suppression tactics in America, the Republican party is at the top of the game. But right now, in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s Democratic officials who are in the hot seat after announcing that the city would use “signature matching” to verify the petitions for a city ballot initiative referendum on whether or not to build the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, aka “Cop City.”
“In an effort to ensure that adequate resources are dedicated to this project, the City of Atlanta—through the adoption of the Atlanta City Council—has developed a step-by-step process to conduct the audit of the documents, of which the signature verification process maybe a critical element,” Interim Municipal Clerk Vanessa Waldon said in the announcement.
The funding for Cop City, which will be located in a majority-Black area of DeKalb County, was approved in June, despite the fact that the residents there don’t seem to want it. City officials might be surprised to learn that an 85-acre cop training center built near a Black neighborhood is a little too on the noose—I mean, nose regarding civil rights violations waiting to happen. Many appear to believe they’re calling it a “safety training center” because “militarized police brutality and racial profiling learning camp” doesn’t send the best PR message. (I mean, the center is there to train firefighters as well, but still.)
Anyway, according to Mother Jones, “more than 25 of the leading voting rights groups in Georgia—including Fair Fight Action and New Georgia Project, both founded by former Georgia state legislator Stacey Abrams—signed an open letter that strongly criticized what they described as voter suppression tactics happening in their state” in reference to the signature matching policy, which, like most voter/election security laws, feels like a solution in search of a problem.
“Democracy calls on us to defend the right to participate in our civic process, not only when it is politically expedient or easy, but in every instance––without fail,” the letter states.
From Mother Jones:
Since June, the Stop Cop City Vote Coalition has led a campaign to gather enough signatures—between 70,000 and 80,000—to allow Atlantans to vote on whether to build the facility. Initially, they had 60 days to gather. In July a judge extended the deadline through mid-September. The city has already cleared most of the logistical hurdles to begin building Cop City—including an 11-4 vote from the Atlanta City Council in June to partly fund the project with public money (the rest of the funding will come from the Atlanta Police Foundation). But the Cop City referendum—modeled on a successful effort in Camden County, Georgia—is one of the final barriers.
According to a press release from the Stop Cop City Vote Coalition, they were prepared to turn in their 104,000 signatures on Monday––notably more than twice the amount of votes Mayor Andre Dickens received when he won in 2021—but over the weekend they heard from sources that the City might adjust the legal minimum signature count for ballot access, and that officials were planning to utilize a burdensome verification process. After the rumor spread, on Monday the coalition announced they were holding off until their September 23 deadline. That afternoon city officials sent a memo that announced the process to verify the petitions. It included “signature matching,” an ostensible fraud prevention method in which a prospective voter’s signature on the petition is confirmed to correspond with a signature from the same voter registered in the state’s database.
It’s almost as if the use of “signature matching” is less about verifying documents and more about tossing a roadblock into the petition process so city officials can build their little po-po production facility. And again, creating arbitrary laws in an effort to secure a voting process they can’t prove needs securing is typically a Republican tactic, which makes this move all the more disappointing.
And, as usual, these tactics have proved to disproportionately affect Black voters and voters of color.
More from Mother Jones:
Over thirty states use signature matching, but the practice has come under fire by voting rights groups and has been the subject of lawsuits that allege that it does more to weaken the democratic process than strengthen it. The ACLU has filed lawsuits against signature match laws all across the country because “a perceived signature mismatch heavily affects voters already at the margins—people with disabilities, trans and gender-nonconforming people, women, people for whom English is a second language, and military personnel.” In support of a lawsuit challenging Ohio’s signature matching law in 2020, a political scientist found that for every invalid ballot, thirty-two valid ones are thrown out. When the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project analyzed the 2020 Florida primaries, they found that Black and Latino voters were twice as likely to have their ballots rejected.
Signature-matching has also become a major issue in Georgia politics. In 2018, Gwinnett County was the subject of two separate lawsuits over ballot rejections. When the data was analyzed, experts found that four percent of ballots from white voters were rejected, compared with 11 percent from Black voters, and 15 percent from Asian-American voters. Ahead of the Georgia Senate runoff in 2021, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a lawsuit brought by the campaigns of Republican candidates Kelly Loefler and David Perdue that would’ve rejected more absentee ballots by changing the signature matching rules.
But maybe that’s the point. Black and brown people in Atlanta don’t want Cop City to happen, so that’s whose vote needs to be stifled. Maybe voter suppression is actually a bipartisan thing.
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