Don't be fooled—the fraudulent petition reads like a wish-list for the cop union.

Phony “Police Accountability” Petition Scheme Uncovered

Local activists have uncovered the truth behind the phony police accountability petition that has been circulating. By claiming to stand for progressive reform, right-wingers are attempting to coax voters into signing onto a petition that reads like a Austin Police Association wish-list. Austin DSA member Bennett B. reports on his findings below.

By Bennett B.

Austin socialists and progressives remember Save Austin Now’s deceptive petition drive in 2020 to get their hateful, anti-homeless Prop B on the ballot. Petitioners for the effort – working class people often being paid by the signature – told unsuspecting Austinites that the petition would “help the homeless” or “get homeless off the streets”. In actuality, it criminalized homelessness and reinstated the camping ban. 

Right-wing ghouls are back with another petition effort, this time even more deceptive than before. Reports from around the city attest that petitioners are approaching people asking for signatures for Equity Action’s Austin Police Oversight Act (APOA), an effort endorsed by Austin DSA. The problem, however, is that the APOA was submitted months ago and secured a spot on the May 2023 ballot. 

DSA members and journalist Austin Sanders of the Austin Chronicle quickly began an ad-hoc investigation and uncovered layers of deception and worker exploitation behind this latest effort to deceive Austin voters into unwittingly endorsing an effort antithetical to most Austinite’s values. 

The group behind the latest effort is an organization officially known as Voters for Oversight and Police Accountability (VOPA), a paper-thin front group for the Austin Police Association PAC. I personally spoke with a canvasser who had flown to Austin from out of state on their own dime, under the impression that they would be working for a progressive police reform effort “with the potential to get paid” after reaching a certain number of signatures. 

I obtained a document distributed from VOPA leadership to their workers which provides an unconvincing rationale as to why the petition is being circulated in the first place, likely in response to the reporting that has blown the lid off of the false premise that the effort is Equity Action-endorsed. It acknowledges that there is already a police oversight initiative on the ballot, but that this one is an attempt to get “more irons in the fire” so that Austin voters “have options”. 

Script used by canvassers collecting signatures for the fraudulent petition.

What the group is not acknowledging, however, is that upon closer examination, the new petition is a wish-list for the cop union and removes incredibly important clauses from the real APOA. Equity Action is circulating this graphic to highlight the key differences:

Regardless of VOPA’s stated intent, it is very clear that the petition’s real purpose is to place a weaker option on the ballot and deceptively capitalize off of Austin voters’ goodwill and opposition to police brutality to garner support for the weaker initiative. Unfortunately, these tactics have disastrous side effects for local democracy in Austin.

The ballot initiative petition process is perhaps one of the most truly democratic features of Austin local government, whereby citizens can place local initiatives on the ballot if they have enough support. However, when right-wing groups lie to voters and collect signatures under false pretenses, public trust in grassroots efforts is undermined. When I collected signatures for the real APOA, it was incredibly common for voters to ask me who I “really worked for” and whether or not I was with Save Austin Now. The right has already achieved their goal of inducing skepticism of genuine efforts, and in the aftermath of this latest deception, the situation will only be worse. Ballot initiative petitions are necessarily written in inaccessible legal-ese, and many Austinites don’t have the time or energy to read the entirety of such a long petition. Even if they do make the effort, they may lack the knowledge or training to discern what the true effect of the petition language would be. 

However, there is a silver lining. The fact that right-wing groups feel the need to lie and cheat in order to get their efforts on the Austin ballot is a sign that the hearts and minds of most Austin voters are in our favor. Equity Action earned their reputation as a legitimate organization, and Austin DSA is known as a reliable force behind progressive efforts like the real APOA. The right may have money and deceptive tactics, but the left is winning the bigger battle for true popular support in the long run.

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