Pro-oil groups question the number of signatures turned in for anti-oil and gas measures based on picture of empty boxes
The Greeley Tribune
All petitions for initiatives to get on the general election ballot this year need 98,492 valid voter signatures. The state Secretary of State’s office has until Sept. 7 to validate all signatures submitted on Monday.
Some oil and gas industry proponents are wondering if they witnessed a publicity stunt Monday when the group supporting two ballot measures to limit drilling in Colorado dumped hundreds of boxes of petitions at the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.
Lynn Bartels, the spokeswoman for the office, tweeted a photo Tuesday of about 50 boxes that were emptied from the group’s display, after officials consolidated petitions to fully fill the boxes.
The tweet read: “Proponents of fracking measures turned in lots of boxes with very few petitions in them.”
Bartels said in an interview that many instances of petitions being submitted there are typically about five empty boxes left over after staff consolidates them.
The immediate implication from opponents of the measures is Monday’s event was a publicity stunt, and the groups, which used volunteers to collect signatures for the last several months, did not make the necessary 98,492 signatures to get measure Nos. 75 and 78 on the ballot. No. 75 would allow local governments to ban oil and gas drilling, while No. 78 would require any future drilling be at least 2,500 feet away from everything from residences to bodies of drinking water.
Lauren Petrie, the Rocky Mountain director of Food and Water Watch, a major contributor to the ballot measures’ campaign, said the group, Yes for Health and Safety over Fracking, knew going into the weekend they had well over 100,000 signatures but they kept going through Monday to capitalize on the time they had left.
“As they were coming in, toward the last-minute gathering efforts, we might have only been handing out a new box, so they were coming back like empty boxes,” Petrie said.
Petrie said the group is confident in the number of signatures it submitted.
“I think it’s kind of shameful the secretary of state is making accusations that we’re submitting” less than the required numbers, Petrie said. “This is a monumental effort. We had grassroots partners and volunteers from across state, gathering signatures for months taking time out of their days to do that.”
The display of volunteers easily carrying two and three boxes of signatures at a time and delivering them to the office, however, was suspect to some. Simon Lomax, an associate energy policy analyst with the conservative Independence Institute in Denver and a consultant who advises pro-business groups, said he’s seen this before.
In October 2014, a group of oil industry opponents delivered boxes of signatures against fracking to the governor’s office in Raleigh, N.C., including 44 empty boxes.
“To make it look more impressive they added a bunch of empty boxes, or boxes with very few petitions,” Lomax said. “It just sort of shows, these groups don’t do substance, they just do deceptive publicity stunts.”
Karen Crummy, a spokeswoman for Protect Colorado, the oil industry group that formed to fight the ballot measures, immediately sent out a news release Tuesday questioning the authenticity of the signature collection efforts. She said because the tweet came from the secretary of state’s office, many residents would infer the groups supporting the ballot measure fell short of their signature goals.
“How do you say the implication is anything else?” Crummy said.
The secretary of state’s office staffers have until Sept. 7 to count all signatures.
“We’re expecting they will go through the validation process with transparency and impartiality, as they should for any ballot measure,” Petrie said.
Crummy said no one in the oil industry will breathe a sigh of relief until that final count comes down.
“We’ll keep campaigning and moving forward as if they do have enough signatures,” Crummy said.
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