How many boxes does it take to hold 100,000 anti-fracking signatures?
Proponents of anti-fracking initiatives used a lot of boxes for their petitions. What does it mean? Maybe nothing.
This is the celebratory tweet that Yes for Health and Safety sent out Tuesday morning after turning in petitions Monday for two anti-fracking ballot initiatives:
That’s a lot of boxes. But what was inside them?
That’s a picture of empty boxes tweeted out by the spokeswoman for the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.
When petitions get delivered to the Secretary of State’s Office, they get removed to be checked and then repacked. Sometimes there are some leftover over boxes because the petitions were not packed as efficiently as possible. Like, five or six empty boxes, Bartels said.
Proponents of the anti-fracking measures ended up with, if my count is correct, 55 empty boxes.
When I called Bartels, she was quick to offer up some context and possible explanations. It doesn’t mean the proponents didn’t turn in enough petitions or even that they were carrying out some sort of public relations stunt.
Maybe disparate, individual petition gatherers had been given boxes, and they tossed their small stack, gathered from a few afternoons at a grocery store, in a box before turning them in.
That’s pretty much what happened, said Lauren Petrie of Food and Water Watch, which was an early member of the Yes for Food and Safety coalition. Volunteers might have only one bundle of 100 sheets to put in their box, but they worked hard to get them.
The reason the coalition doesn’t have a more precise number of signatures is that organizers knew they had cleared the 100,000 mark over the weekend, but they kept collecting until 12:30 p.m. Monday. They didn’t have time to count the additional signatures before taking them to the Secretary of State’s Office before the 3 p.m. deadline, Petrie said.
“This is a David and Goliath fight,” she said. “They were trying to step on us every step of the way. … And we prevailed. We just want to celebrate that without the Secretary of State making inappropriate comments before they even know the facts.”
The Secretary of State’s Office has until Sept. 7 to verify whether proponents have met the minimum standard of 98,492 valid signatures, and Bartels said her tweet was not meant as any commentary on whether they’ve met that standard.
The tweet carries a certain, inescapable connotation.
“At first blush, it’s totally inappropriate,” said Jesse Coleman, a member of Greenpeace and the Yes For Health and Safety coalition.
Initiatives 75 and 78 would allow local jurisdictions to ban or limit fracking and would establish a 2,500 setback between oil and gas operations and occupied buildings.
“We’re very confident we have well over 100,000 signatures, and we’re very sure that when the Secretary of State does their job, they’ll corroborate those numbers, regardless of what boxes she’s looking at,” Coleman said.
With 25,000 jobs in oil and gas and billions in economic impact, the industry and plenty of elected officials have lined up to oppose these initiatives and put millions into the effort even before the initiatives officially make the ballot.
If there’s any question about the number or validity of signatures, expect a fight over this one.
In the meantime, please think of the environment before you pack your petitions.