Proposition A had a landslide victory in Austin on May 6 as voters soundly rejected the competing police oversight measure Proposition B.
Proposition A passed with 79.27% support among Austin voters who cast ballots in the May election, while Proposition B failed with just 19.52% of votes cast in favor, based on voting totals out of Travis, Williamson and Hays counties reported after 10 p.m. on May 6.
The election ended up as a clash between Proposition A, backed by Equity Action and supporters of the Yes on A No on B campaign, and Proposition B, created by the group Voters for Oversight and Police Accountability and its chief funder and supporter, the Austin Police Association.
Chris Harris, board president for Equity Action, said Proposition A's resounding victory represents a win for Austinites by deterring police wrongdoing.
"We’re going to have a police oversight system now where we can be much more assured that full and thorough investigations will occur when an allegation of wrongdoing is made, and that facts about misconduct are going to see the light of day," Harris said.
While the fate of both propositions was clear on election night, the final outcome for police oversight in Austin is still to be determined and ties into the relationship between Austin and the police association.
As an immediate next step, city officials will certify election results later this month. The chapter of Austin’s city code covering police oversight will then be repealed and replaced by the text of Proposition A in line with state law.
Contract talks between the city and the police association stalled out earlier this year after many city officials stated their desire to wait for the May election before voting on a new deal. Now, Austin and the police union will handle the next labor agreement process with the updated oversight framework in place. Harris said he hopes to see that process begin soon.
The handling of police union contracts and some oversight provisions are established in Texas government code, and Austin Police Association representatives have argued that some of Proposition A’s contents will not be enforceable under current state rules. Members of the city’s negotiating team also told City Council earlier this year that a previously agreed-upon four-year contract—that was never ratified—could have given Austin better oversight outcomes than whatever system goes into place with Proposition A’s victory.
Austin Police Association President Thomas Villarreal said the organization is now working to determine how Austin will implement what he called "illegal provisions" in Proposition A, and that he hopes to eventually arrive at a four-year deal that provides positive outcomes for the city's police officers.
"The APA simply will not stand by while this city and anti-police activists operate with blatant disregard for state law and the rights and protections afforded to our hardworking men and women," Villarreal said in a statement. "The APA continues to prioritize negotiating a long-term contract; however, we will not be forced back to the table under a structure in which a new city ordinance attempts to unlawfully interfere with the statutory rights associated with the meet and confer process."
In a statement, Mayor Kirk Watson also said he hopes to see negotiations pick back up now that the election is complete. However, he also noted that pending state legislation and the APA's reaction to some provisions within Proposition A have "further complicated" the complex situation and potential outcomes.
"As I’ve said before, this deeply felt conversation about public safety and policing in our community has raised a lot of challenging questions and absolutely no easy answers. But we’ll keep talking in the hope of finding some common-sense solutions that serve all our community," Watson said. "That includes the sort of actions we have already taken such as protecting officers’ salaries and retirement and creating incentives for recruitment and retention."
Council Member Zo Qadri said on election night that he wants to see the city and police union representatives work to tackle the next contract.
“I think we heard from the voters, and I think that was always the hope of this dais,” Qadri said with early results in. “The city overwhelmingly wants real oversight and accountability, so my hope is that we are able to go back to the negotiating table with APA and get a contract that does right by our officers, but also does right by our citizens.”
The May 2023 passage of Proposition A follows Austinites’ May 2022 vote to limit APD marijuana enforcement and use of no-knock warrants, and a November 2021 vote against a set staffing level at the police department based on the city’s population.
Posted 7:40 p.m. May 6
The police oversight measure Proposition A is receiving strong early support while the competing ballot item Proposition B appears headed for defeat in Austin’s May election.
Based on early voting results only, 79.5% of Austinites backed Proposition A and just 19.4% backed Proposition B. The two measures, both titled the “Austin Police Oversight Act,” were developed by separate groups and would result in different outcomes for the city’s police oversight and officer investigation processes.
In total, 33,648 Austin early voters supported Proposition A while 8,678 were against it. The vote breakdown for Proposition B was nearly identical but in reverse with 8,100 early votes for and 33,644 against.
Proposition A, the first oversight proposal to land on Austin’s ballot, was crafted by the criminal justice organization Equity Action last year. Equity Action leaders have said they wanted to forward the measure to voters to strengthen police accountability and transparency in the city, and to remove aspects of the police oversight system from the bargaining process between Austin and its police union.
Proposition B, backed by Voters for Oversight and Police Accountability, is based on the framework of Proposition A with several changes to language and oversight outcomes throughout. According to VOPA, its version of the oversight act is also centered on transparency and accountability at the Austin Police Department.
Proposition A's full text may be viewed here and Proposition B may be viewed here.
Equity Action has received support from several local Democratic groups and politicians, and has both raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2023 to support its proposition. VOPA was initially funded almost entirely by the Austin Police Association, and reported more limited fundraising and spending in the lead-up to the May election.
The face-off between the ballot measures is the latest in a series of high-profile policing decisions in the city through recent years, following a 2021 vote in which Austinites rejected a police staffing requirement and voted to ban low-level marijuana enforcement and no-knock raids in the city in last spring's election. This year, the pending outcome of this May’s proposition election also led City Council to hold off on approving a new labor agreement with the police union.
While a four-year deal between the Austin Police Association and city negotiators had been completed, city officials never voted on that outline and instead asked for a replacement one-year contract to be worked out. The police union declined to enter a second round of negotiations and the previous contract expired in March.
Mayor Kirk Watson has said he hopes both sides can return to the bargaining table and finalize a long-term deal after the election, and with the propositions’ successes or failures in mind.
Initial voting totals include ballots cast in Travis, Williamson and Hays counties. Results will be updated throughout the night May 6 as election day results are reported, and are unofficial until canvassed.
Visit communityimpact.com/voter-guide to see results from all elections in your community.