Petition imitating the Austin Police Oversight Act may appear on the May ballot

Madeline Duncan, Senior News Reporter

Austin voters may face two nearly identical propositions concerning police oversight in May. Despite having the same name, one of these propositions would increase oversight while the other intends to maintain the status quo.

The Austin City Council put the Austin Police Oversight Act — the proposition that would increase oversight — on the upcoming May ballot in September after Equity Action, an Austin based non-profit, reached the 20,000 signature minimum on their petition over the summer. Chris Harris, the board president of Equity Action, said he noticed a petition imitating the act in November.

“The name is identical,” Harris said. “The caption, which is what will appear on the ballot, is nearly identical. But once you dive into the content, it actually would set up a far weaker system of oversight than our ordinance and in some ways, even weaker than today’s very weak system of police oversight.”

Voters for Oversight and Police Accountability turned in the petition to the Austin city clerk on Dec. 19. It is unclear what group is behind Voters for Oversight and Police Accountability, but Harris said canvassers for the petition falsely claimed to be members of Equity Action.

“(The petitioners) were saying that it’s got the same goals as our ballot measure and all these other falsehoods that were intended to deceive people into thinking that they were voting for something that would actually improve police oversight,” Harris said.

To appear on the ballot, the Austin city clerk must validate a sample of at least 25% of the signatures to verify signatures are by registered Austin voters. The process can take up to 30 days. 

The Voters for Oversight and Police Accountability website has no contact information and little detail regarding the ordinance they are trying to pass.

This is very clearly an effort by some elements within the Police Association or the association itself to try to trick our city into approving an oversight ordinance that would weaken the oversight over themselves,” Harris said.

Studio art freshman Amalya Graham said she interacted with several petitioners on the UT campus, many of whom seemed unaware that they were gathering signatures for a fraudulent petition.

“One petitioner actually told me that he was asking for people to put down fake names, which is kind of illegal,” Graham said. “He said that he was asking them to put down fake names because he needed the money because they’re paying him two dollars a signature, and they had flown him out from Miami.”

Evan Scope Crafts, a computational science, engineering and mathematics graduate student,  said when he approached canvassers asking about the validity of the petition, he was met with more resistance.

“They accused me of being a paid employee who was out there to obstruct this ‘honest, well-meaning petition,’” Scope Crafts said. “It was only after a lot of explanation, other people coming over or pulling up articles and so on, they finally seemed to understand.”

Scope Crafts also said that many of the petitioners he spoke to were not Austin residents. 

“Three out of the four people I talked to had flown in from out of state based on a job posting,” Scope Crafts said. “So we have people coming in who aren’t even part of the community in order to enact the will of ostensibly APD and ensure that there’s no real regulation going on.”