A mandatory recount of the Denver suburb of Broomfield's anti-fracking measure confirmed that voters did in fact pass a five-year moratorium on the controversial oil and gas drilling practice, albeit narrowly -- by only 20 votes.
In the state's election last month, voters in three of Broomfield's neighboring communities -- Boulder, Lafayette and Fort Collins -- succeeded in passing five-year fracking moratoriums or outright bans. Two of those communities however are now being sued by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. And after the Colorado Secretary of State's office slammed Broomfield's election process, that city is being sued too.
"It is regrettable and unfortunate that COGA had to take this action," said Tisha Schuller, President and CEO of COGA in a statement. "With 95 percent of all wells in Colorado hydraulically fractured, any ban on fracking is a ban on oil and gas development, and the State Supreme Court has clearly stated bans are illegal in Colorado."
COGA contends that only the state had the right to regulate drilling, not local governments.
"The people of Colorado now know that this industry will do everything within its power to undermine democracy, diminish home values," anti-fracking supporter Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action told The Denver Post. "It's now the local cities' job to vigorously protect the public and defend the will of the voters."
In Broomfield's case, the recount triggered the lawsuit by the Broomfield Balanced Energy Coalition, a group that opposed the anti-fracking measure, for the way the election was conducted. Their lawsuit is seeking an injunction to keep the ban from taking effect.
"The uncertainties around the Broomfield vote count and the new voter law make us question the accuracy of tonight’s outcome,” said B.J. Nikkel, a former Republican state legislator who's not an advisor to the group, in a statement. "We will vigorously review the entire process and look at all legal options for ensuring the integrity of this election."
The five-year fracking moratorium, known as Question 300, was the closest ballot question on fracking in the state and dredged up criticism of the town's vote counting process, which was complicated by newly changed voter registration laws.
Elections officials were originally reporting that the measure had lost on election night by 13 votes, then later announced it won by 17 votes after Broomfield took into account the outstanding ballots not counted on election night. Per state law, that narrow margin triggered a mandatory recount. Adding controversy to the recount was the Colorado Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act, a bill that passed in May and changed voter registration laws.
While voters only have to live in Colorado for 22 days to vote in state elections, voters had to have lived in Broomfield for at least 30 days in order to vote on municipality issues, like Question 300, and the Secretary of State's office argued that the city should have tailored their ballots to avoid confusion.
The report from the Secretary of State's Office criticized Broomfield for "illegally and improperly updating voters' residential addresses; illegally issuing ballots from drop-off locations away from the clerk's office; improperly counting ballots cast by ineligible electors; and improperly rejecting ballots cast by eligible electors."
The cities facing suit because of their voter-approved anti-fracking measures now join the city of Longmont, which is already entangled in a lawsuit for its fracking ban by the COGA and Colorado's Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who supports fracking.
The official results in Broomfield's election are expected to be certified on Thursday.