Colorado election officials have determined that national activist groups pushing a pair of anti-fracking initiatives that have faced strong bipartisan opposition, failed to collect enough signatures for the measures to go before the state’s voters this fall. They are also raising questions over whether the group turned in “potentially forged” signatures found during the review process. From a Colorado Secretary of State press release announcing the results of their signature review:
“Two proposed ballot measures aimed at adding more limitations on oil and natural gas drilling in Colorado failed to make the November ballot because supporters didn’t collect enough valid voter signatures, Secretary of State Wayne Williams announced today.”
The release also notes some irregularities found during the signature review:
“Of note: For No. 78, the petition processing team identified a petition section that contains several potentially forged signature lines. Although the Secretary of State does not conduct signature verification when reviewing petitions, our office has referred the questionable section to the Attorney General’s office for investigation. The section, numbered 2109, had no lines marked for review in the random sample.” (emphasis added)
The finding of “potentially forged” signatures is particularly disturbing as one of the leading activist groups behind the effort has been caught forging signatures before. In a petition seeking a moratorium on fracking in California, Food & Water Watch was caught red-handed adding the names of a pair of bakery owners to the list. When it was brought to their attention, the business owners responded via their Facebook page writing:
“Much to our chagrin, it was brought to our attention that our name and business was linked to a signed petition in regards to fracking. We honestly have no idea how this came to be and we are currently in the process of having our name removed from the list.” (emphasis added)
Earlier this month, the groups rushed their signatures into the Secretary of State’s office in a last minute push minutes before the deadline claiming they had turned in at least 98,492 valid signatures required to make the ballot. The groups even boasted to national media outlets like the New York Times and promised to others that their campaign would amount to “one of the biggest” in the country. As the Greeley Tribune reports:
“This will be one of the biggest environmental fights in the country this year,” said Lauren Petrie, Rocky Mountain region director for Food and Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.,-based group advocating for safety in food production and oil and gas production. “All eyes will be on the outcome for these Colorado ballot initiatives.” (Emphasis added)
But local political analysts and elected officials began questioning whether the groups had turned in a sufficient amount of signatures to put their extreme Keep-It-In-The-Ground (KIITG) agenda on the state’s ballot, almost immediately. The first sign that something was wrong came after Colorado Secretary of State Spokeswoman Lynn Bartels tweeted a photo of a stack of empty boxes, observing that backers of Initiatives 75 and 78 “turned in lots of boxes with very few petitions in them.” When asked by the media about the photo that the Greeley Tribune described as “about 50 boxes,” Bartels called it “unusual.” As CBS 4 previously reported:
“It is unusual because other measures that were turned in, the petitions were scanned in by our staff and put back in their original boxes to be sent down to Pueblo to the state agency to be checked and they maybe had five boxes left over. This was boxes and boxes and boxes. That may not mean anything but it may mean something,” Bartels said.
Local media looking into the story obtained petition circulator reports showing that the groups failed to collect a sufficient number of signatures to survive the state’s validations process based on “an average rejection rate of about 30 percent”. After reviewing the documents, political specialist Shaun Boyd with CBS 4 in Denver reported that the groups had fallen short in their efforts. As Shaun Boyd reports for CBS 4:
“This story gets more bizarre by the day. The measures have been getting national attention as though they’ve already made the ballot, the New York Times calling them the most serious effort yet to stop fracking. But we have obtained reports filed by the circulators for these measures and based on the number of signatures that they say they have, the chance of these measures making the ballot, is remote.” (Emphasis added)
Boyd’s report came on the heels of a revealing expose from Politico that exposed a rift within the state’s environmental community over the initiatives. As Politico reports quoting an anonymous activist,
“If I were a betting person, I would not bet they would get on the ballot,” one Colorado environmentalist said of the anti-fracking initiatives, insisting on anonymity to speak candidly. (emphasis added)
Another activist put it more bluntly. As Politico also reports,
“Another environmental advocate in the state agreed that the initiatives have “a pretty tough path to victory” if they do make it on the ballot, adding: “I’d rather not see the measures crushed at the ballot box.””
More recently, even the state’s Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper weighed in on the group’s chances during his appearance at the Rocky Mountain Energy Summit saying that he thinks the measures would not meet the necessary number of signatures to appear on the ballot. From Hickenlooper’s remarks:
“My full assumption is that neither of those two initiatives are going to get, going to have the signatures. I don’t think either one is going to be on the ballot”
It should come as no surprise that the groups fell short. The initiatives have faced fierce bipartisan opposition from prominent Democrats like former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and former United States Senator and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar who have been speaking out against the initiatives. Joining them are Colorado’s Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper who opposes the initiatives along with Colorado’s business community who have said they will be economically devastating for the state.
According to the Secretary of State’s office, the groups now “have 30 days from today to appeal the decision to the Denver District Court.” But as more and more information about their signature gathering efforts trickles out, it is looking as though this whole campaign will amount to nothing more than another failed media stunt to add to an already long list.