BROOMFIELD — Election watchdog groups scrutinizing a bevy of significant irregularities are questioning whether a key leader of the initiative to ban hydraulic fracturing should also be allowed to play a leading role in determining which votes do and don’t get counted in the razor thin election contest.
Joan Murahata, co-chair of the Broomfield Democrats and a leading advocate for Our Broomfield – the local chapter of a nationally funded network trying to ban hydraulic fracturing locally – also has another role. She serves on Broomfield’s Canvassing Board, the body charged with making key determinations about which votes are and aren’t counted in the hotly contested recount.
An October 21 Facebook post by the Sierra Club highlighted Murahata’s participation in the fracking ban campaign’s organizational and fundraising efforts.
“Denver Metro folks, please help support Broomfield Ballot Measure 300 however you can – volunteer, donate, or just help spread the word…” read the Facebook message. “Contact Joan Murahata of the local group Our Broomfield to volunteer.”
That seeming conflict of interest – and what some see as an effort to keep aspects of the recount out of public view – has raised eyebrows among many observers, given that the Canvassing Board is the final arbiter and certifier of the election.
“Joan has bought into the role of keeping the public and watchers away from the citizens’ records of how they chose their government,” said Marilyn Marks of Citizen Center, a non-profit and non-partisan group focused on government transparency and election integrity.
“I hope that [Murahata] will reconsider that improper role,” Marks added.
The proposed fracking ban was defeated on Election Night by 13 votes. After the canvassing board reviewed ballots last week, the outcome of the hydraulic fracturing ban flipped, with the ban going from a narrow defeat to a 17-vote lead.
News of Murahata’s connection to the green lobby comes just days after local officials were forced into the position of conceding that they disenfranchised some voters after citizen watchers’ complaints were independently analyzed by the Secretary of State.
The report is due to be discussed Monday morning at a canvass board meeting.
But the disclosures aren’t the only thing feeding public concern about potential election irregularities.
The conservative political website Colorado Peak Politics suggested on November 14 that one prominent anti-fracking activist, Cliff Willmeng, may have “tried to escort an elderly woman in to get a ballot to vote” as recently as last week – several days after the election.
The site also reported information from sources alleging that the “[Broomfield] Clerk and Recorder is actively considering counting a FedEx package full of votes mailed from Boulder and received after the election date.”
“Self-Affirmation of Elector” documents sent to several voters by the Broomfield Clerk have also come under scrutiny. More than 20 of those documents were delivered to a single nursing home and filled out by one staff member from the clerk’s office – all handwritten and dated, “11/5/2013.”
While it is normal for members of political parties to serve on canvass boards, Murahata’s connections to the campaign, combined with concerns that the canvass board has attempted to restrict public access to the process, have some expressing concern that access by those associated with the campaign to ban fracking enjoy could impact the outcome of the recount.
“I fear that Joan has listened to attorneys for Our Broomfield who argue that it is too late to review issues of eligibility and disenfranchisement of voters, or invalid signatures, while her Republican counterpart Marty Robinson has advocated for full, open access to all information that might shed light on the details of the election,” Marks added. “They argue that the canvass board should only consider tabulation arithmetic, not the integrity of the election.”
Murahata did not respond to a request for comment.