No last-minute Santa Claus came to save a coalition Tuesday that wanted to put legislation for a new Chattanooga police oversight board on the March 2021 ballot. Nor should one have.
The Community Control Now coalition, in the end, failed to get enough valid signatures to get its initiative on the ballot.
An initial count, a recount and another audit of the signatures by the Hamilton County Election Commission were made.
When the campaign of the president of the United States files suit over recounts of his re-election try, one wants to be sure one has done one's due diligence with a much smaller group of names.
But, like a spoiled child who rails if his mother won't buy him a new toy, the group didn't want to take "no" — three "nos," actually — for an answer.
Instead, it wanted another recount with an independent agency overseeing the process and in the presence of a member of the coalition.
Election commission officials, just to be sure they were being fair, checked with state officials, who told them "what we've done is satisfactory," according Kristi Berry, executive assistant to the administrator of elections.
That still wasn't good enough.
"While we have been made aware of the Hamilton County Election Commission's decision that the initiative to place community oversight on the city of Chattanooga March ballot appears to have fallen several hundred votes short of the required number, our coalition will enter a phase where we will verify and validate those names and signatures that were disqualified," a Tuesday statement from the coalition read. "We have called for full transparency throughout the course of this process and will work to ensure that the integrity of this ballot initiative is upheld and protected."
The rules-don't-apply-to-us attitude seems to be just one more example of a national temper tantrum the country is having in 2020 as it endures a global pandemic.
We've seen it with mask mandates, with forced business closings, with protests, with elected officials who won't follow their own rules and even with President Donald Trump, who is still frantically looking for enough fraud to make up 7 million votes to catch President-elect Joe Biden.
A few of the naysayers this year have had legitimate reasons to voice concerns; most didn't.
That seems to be the case with the Community Control Now coalition, whose members believe the current Police Advisory and Review Committee doesn't have enough teeth in wake of the isolated but prominent instances across the country where Black suspects were killed by the police.
Members of the current committee, who review all Chattanooga Police Department internal affairs investigations, are appointed by the Chattanooga City Council and serve on a voluntary basis.
The legislation the coalition was pushing would have members nominated by local nonprofit organizations, would give the board subpoena power (which goes against current state law), would pay members for their service and would appropriate a one-time $1 million expense to get the board up and running.
We see numerous red flags in the proposed initiative, but it seems unnecessary to detail our concerns about an initiative that now can't appear on a ballot until 2022 (if the proper number of signatures is obtained).
What should come out of this exercise is a reminder to groups who want to place something on the ballot how important it is to know the rules about signatures well ahead of time and how careful they must be in compiling names.
In the case of the Community Control Now coalition, its members did the right thing in getting well above the 4,791 signatures they needed (a number based on the number of votes in the last mayoral election). In every case, some are bound to be invalid.
In this particular instance, 1,596 were rejected because they were not registered voters, were not registered to vote in the city (the majority of the rejected names) or had recently moved to another voting district. And 48 were duplicate signatures.
That left the group 226 valid signatures short. As with Trump's much larger efforts, even in the highly unlikely event that as many as 200 signatures — even after three counts — were found to be valid, it wouldn't be enough to change the result.
"[The commission] feels we have given every benefit of the doubt to the signees of these petitions and no further count is necessary considering the four-step review process we've already completed," election commissioners said in a statement provided at the hearing on the matter.
We're fortunate to live in a country where citizens can properly petition for some of the changes they want to see in a community. But when petitioners, as in this case, don't want to take no for an answer, it strains their credulity for trust on future issues.
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