Colorado is no longer heading to a vote on fracking this November. The state found too few valid signatures.
Initiatives 75 and 78, which would have allowed new restrictions on oil-and-gas development, now face a steep uphill battle to get on the November ballot.
The measures’ supporters submitted more than enough signatures to get on the ballot, but a state review process proved that not enough were valid on either petition.
The Department of Personnel and Administration took a standard, random sample of 5,000 signatures for each of the measures and found that about a quarter of the signatures were “invalid.”
“A valid signature is one where the information input by the voter matches the information on file. The address and the name match their voter registration,” Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams said.
After the state knocked out about a quarter of the signatures submitted from the 107,232 turned in for Initiative 75 group and the 106,626 turned in for Initiative 78, officials found both groups were below the state requirement to get on the ballot.
“The projections that resulted were that Amendment 78 had 77,000 valid signatures and needed 98,492,” Williams said. “Amendment 75 received 79,634, so again well short of the required 98,492 signatures.”
Initiative No. 75 would give local governments the authority to regulate oil-and-gas development, including banning fracking. Initiative No. 78 calls for a mandatory 2,500-foot setback around oil-and-gas operations.
In a press release, supporters of the initiatives said they are reviewing the decision to see if there are any grounds for a challenge. They said polling showed Initiative 78, in particular, had strong support.
“As we review the ruling, we want to assure our volunteers and supporters that we are as committed as ever to giving the residents of Colorado a say this November on whether their communities can regulate fracking,” Tricia Olson, executive director of Yes for Health and Safety Over Fracking said in a statement. “That fracking is dangerous to the health and safety of the state’s residents resonated loudly in every corner of the state. Today’s announcement is not the final action on this issue as countless residents are now committed to protecting their children’s schools, parks, and homes.”
Supporters blamed a $15 million decline-to-sign campaign from the oil and gas industry for interfering with their ability to get as many signatures as other initiatives this year.
There’s also some indication of fraud. The state identified “a handful” of potentially forged signature lines for Initiative 78. Those have been referred to the state Attorney General’s office for review. Even if they were valid, Initiative 78 would still not have enough support to go before voters in November, Williams said.
The anti-fracking groups now have about a month to appeal the decision to the Denver District Court. One small catch, the Secretary of State’s Office plans to certify the ballot Sept. 12 and mail it to members of the military 11 days later.
There’s a chance either initiative group could win its appeal after the ballot is mailed. If that happens a question about oil and gas would appear on the November 2017 ballot, Williams said.
Monday’s announcement is another ballot blow for Colorado’s environmentalists who tried to get similar proposals on the ballot in 2012. Gov. John Hickenlooper struck a deal that deflated their support that time around.
Seven other initiatives made the ballot for November, along with a few initiated by legislators. We’ve got a full listing here.
All the measures that got on the ballot had more than 140,000 signatures, and they barely met the review requirements, while the anti-fracking measures only had about 107,000 each.
“They have a really high validity rate,” said Lynn Bartels, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State. It’s not unusual for signatures to be rejected for reasons ranging from poor handwriting to incorrect addresses.
By law, the petitions needed 98,492 signatures each. However, the rules say that measures must be projected to have 110 percent of the actual requirement, based on that whole sampling process.
So, the real, practical requirement is higher than the often-cited 98,492 number. Even if the campaigns collected only valid signatures (which is nearly impossible), they would still have needed 109,000 signatures to pass the review.
Confused yet? Basically, the oil-and-gas measures never had enough support, no matter how many of their signatures were valid. When you do all the math, they came up with only 80 percent of the required “projected total.” If the random sample had indicated anywhere between 90 and 110 percent of the necessary number of signatures, the Secretary of State’s Office would have had to go line-by-line through the petitions. But because the projected total was far short of that threshold, they don’t need to take that step.
This story has been updated to add comment from Yes for Health and Safety.
Adrian D. Garcia contributed to this report.