Bizarre Petition Problem Imperils Setback Initiative

UPDATE: Legal threats appear to have greased the proverbial wheels, AP:

Sponsors of a proposal to limit oil and gas drilling in Colorado say they’ve recovered thousands of voter petitions supporting the measure that were taken out of state by an Oregon signature gathering firm.

Colorado Rising says it hopes its dispute with Direct Action Partners of Portland doesn’t jeopardize its efforts to get its statutory measure on November’s ballot.


Fracking near a high school in Greeley, Colorado.

As the Denver Post’s Joe Rubino reports, “yikes” is the word:

A group working to get a measure on Colorado’s November ballot that would make it illegal to operate oil and gas wells within 2,500 feet of an occupied building says a company it was paying to gather signatures for the initiative has taken seven boxes of signed petitions and left the state.

Activists with Colorado Rising have filed a lawsuit in Denver District Court against Direct Action Partners Inc., a signature gathering company based in Oregon. The suit, a Replevin claim aimed at wrongfully taken private property, seeks the return of seven boxes of signed ballot petitions for Initiative 97. The would-be statewide ballot measure seeks voter approval to set new, much-greater minimum well setbacks from homes, schools and water sources.

The seven boxes contain petitions with between 15,000 and 20,000 voter signatures, Colorado Rising claims. The group is seeking to collect more than 98,000 certified signatures to get its measure before voters this fall. Former Democratic Colorado attorney general candidate Joe Salazar is representing Colorado Rising in the case.

We’re not sure what to make of this situation, but it’s always frustrating to see a campaign held hostage by its contractors. We don’t have any evidence to suggest that this contractor might have been compromised in some way by the initiative’s well-heeled opponents in the oil and gas industry, but we can’t separate this situation completely from the aggressive “decline to sign” campaign the industry has been running to vociferously shadow individual gatherers and dissuade potential signers.

We’re also not making any judgments in this post about the merits of Initiative 97, which would dramatically extend setbacks between oil and gas operations and surface development on nonfederal lands throughout Colorado. There is considerable debate even among environmentally-minded Democrats as to whether this measure’s large and inflexible setbacks make sense applied to every part of the state. What we do know is that the oil and gas industry really, really doesn’t want to fight this initiative–and we wouldn’t put anything past them to avoid having to spend the millions it would take to defeat it.

With all of that said, we’ll all have to wait and see how this dispute shakes out. As the old saying goes, don’t attribute to malice what can be as easily chalked up to incompetence.

But there are…exceptions to that rule. And they happen in politics.


6 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. VoyageurVoyageur says:

    I'll take a position on this extreme bid by the freeze in the dark crowd– it stinks.   It will also generate a hitherto unknown level of negative advertising as the oil and gas industry fights for its very survival.  $20 million or more.  All that negative advertising could have baleful effects on more worthwhile initiatives and, by increasing turnout by conservative voters, could hurt progressives across the board.

    It is to be hoped this uber left initiative dies a natural and painful death.

    That said, I don't think I've ever seen quite so bizarre a betrayal of a cause by its hirelings.

  2. JohnInDenverJohnInDenver says:

    One more reason to justify a change in process, away from paper and ink to some sort of high tech, new-fangled computer based approach.

    There needs to be a way to connect a flesh & blood person, their voter registration, and a mark of their endorsement of a candidacy or issue petition. Done well, a petition drive could use a phone, tablet or computer of their choice to find a voter registration, mark a "signature" and record some verifiable identification (photo of state-issued ID, thumbprint). That would allow a near "real-time" count of endorsements, end false signatures, avoid petitions getting lost or taken to Oregon, etc.

    • gertie97 says:

      Great. More targets for hackers.

    • mamajama55mamajama55 says:

      I agree. Only states with all mail ballot elections, like Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Montana and California this year, should proceed on this path (digitally verified signatures ) for now. Voter signatures will be archived on paper, and Russki or other hackers can’t hack those. 

      Id like to see them try to get past those county clerks of whatever party affiliation. Those tough cookies have one mission – free, fair, accurate elections. 

      Colorado was a pioneer in modernizing elections (Thanks senator Giron & Reps Hullinghorst and  Pabon. It will be again – other states want what we have – the most secure elections in the country. It’s what Scott Gessler and Wayne Williams fought so hard against – then took credit for its success.

  3. PseudonymousPseudonymous says:

    Perhaps more nefarious?  The NYT article on the incident offers some information that the AP and DP didn't…

    Colorado Group Says Thousands of Signatures for Anti-Fracking Measure Are Missing

    [I]n at least one conversation with Colorado Rising, according to members of the group, Mr. Selvaggio [the petition firm principal] said that he had been approached by the industry-funded group aimed at killing the initiative.

    Pac/West, a communications company organizing the fight against the measure, had come to him and asked him to throw the campaign, he told Ms. Spiegel and at least one other organizer, Lauren Petrie.

    ["Protect Colorado" spokeswoman – sarcasm quotes mine, Pseu.] Crummy acknowledged that the president of Pac/West, Paul Phillips, had known Mr. Selvaggio for years, because both of their companies are based in Oregon. But, she said, “there has been no conversation” about paying Mr. Selvaggio to toss signatures or otherwise compromise the campaign.


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