Guest Commentary: Local Fracking Ban Imposed by Two Officials, Not Voters

January 1, 2014
MARKS: Will Broomfield allow the will of just two people to substitute for the voice of the voters?

MARKS: Will Broomfield allow the will of just two people to substitute for the voice of the voters?

Broomfield voters trusted that their community would decide the fate of fracking. The ugly truth: two self-interested individuals imposed Broomfield’s fracking ban.

Will the Broomfield City Council and/or the courts allow the will of just two people to substitute for the voice of the voters? More importantly, will Coloradans recognize that the Broomfield experience exposes the fact that the wheels have come off Colorado’s election system?

The November 5 Broomfield fracking vote count is still “too close to call.” Irreversible errors exceed the claimed 20-vote victory margin for the “YES” vote to ban fracking. Anti-fracking activists for Our Broomfield experienced the same breakdown of the election process that I observed in hundreds of hours of attempted, but severely limited, citizen oversight. Court filings and Secretary of State reports document material election irregularities, but the details may cause citizens to miss the big picture.

The two-person decision to ban fracking came from Canvass Board members Council-appointed Clerk Jim Candelarie and his hand-picked appointee, anti-fracking activist, Joan Stern-Murahata. Canvass boards, citizen officials charged with the finalization and certification of the election, are rarely in a position to abuse their power, as they were in Broomfield. Colorado law prohibits appointing canvass board members with a direct interest in election outcomes. Flaunting the 100+-year-old ban on such insider influence, Candelarie named Joan Stern-Murahata, Co-Chair of the Broomfield Democratic Party and a leader in the Our Broomfield anti-fracking issue committee, to the three-member Canvass Board.  Marty Robinson, Vice-Chairman of the local Republican Party, was also appointed, but had no ties to the fracking issue.

Abusing their powerful appointments, Candelarie and Stern-Murahata recklessly certified the unverifiable “results,” despite their knowledge of the irreversible errors, unanswered questions, and absence of required supporting documents for the 20-vote margin. Marty Robinson refused to legitimize the sham and withheld his approval from the unsupported abstract of votes cast.

As detailed in the Secretary of State’s investigation, Candelarie had conducted the election in a slipshod fashion with little regard for the complexities of the new 2013 election law, and clearly wanted to close this chapter. The details of the errors in determining voter eligibility, issuance of ballots, vote tabulations, and accepting discrepant signatures unquestionably demonstrated the election was out of control from the beginning, making the so-called “results” meaningless and unverifiable.

Symbolic of the entire process is the fact that Candelarie required bipartisan election judges to sign dozens of tabulation reports that were turned face down to prohibit judges from seeing the results they were signing! The poorly trained election judges followed Candelarie’s bizarre orders, but failed to report his dubious instructions to their respective political parties, leaving the Canvass Board with no verified support for the election results they were asked to certify.

Colorado’s election code provides for distribution of power and wisely requires the bipartisan election judge teams to compile tabulations into personally signed certified summaries for Canvass Board use. Candelarie thwarted the citizen election judges’ required certifications and did not disclose this to Stern-Murahata and Robinson, who were to rely on the judges’ supporting work.

The decision to ban fracking turned on the Canvass Board votes of Candelarie and Stern-Murahata. Abusing their powerful appointments, they recklessly certified the unverifiable “results” despite their knowledge of the irreversible errors and absence of required supporting documents for the 20-vote margin.

Stern-Murahata had motivation to see her issue win. Candelarie had motivation to conceal the flaws in the election. How can two individuals with personal interests control the fracking outcome? Why did Broomfield’s City Council allow Candelarie to appoint an interested party to the seat with the controlling vote to certify an election? Why has Council allowed Candelarie to issue false certifications under the seal of the City?

Citizens must demand answers in order to maintain credible elections. Colorado voters must reassert their control over the conduct of elections and remind their officials that citizens, and not the government, own the elections. Broomfield voters will hopefully instruct City Council to stop spending massive taxpayer funds to defend this flawed election.

The Broomfield solution is relatively simple and very inexpensive, but resisted by local officials. Simply have the bi-partisan judges’ teams return to work to certify the underlying election returns the election code requires. In the process, they will investigate and resolve the errors, if they can be resolved. The grassroots bi-partisan effort will yield a result that the community can trust.

Across the state, voters should demand that Colorado lawmakers roll back the complex 2013 election bill that leads to irreversible errors in elections.

Marilyn Marks is a citizen advocate for election integrity. She served as an expert watcher for Broomfield Issue Committees opposing the fracking ban, as well as other interested parties.

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