BROOMFIELD – District Court Judge Chris Melonakis on Thursday ruled to uphold last year’s error-riddled election held here to ban fracking that passed by a slim 20-vote margin following a contentious and questionable recount process.
The judge dismissed the lawsuit filed by Broomfield Balance Energy Coalition (BBEC) and Tom Cave, a member of the group It’s Our Broomfield Too, who contested the integrity of the election process and argued that numerous errors disenfranchised voters who were eligible to vote in the Nov. 5 municipal election.
“There was no basis to overturn the results, and the court has agreed,” said Broomfield City and County Attorney Bill Tuthill.
Broomfield election officials originally reported that the fracking ban was losing by 13 votes but said a few days later that it was winning by 17 votes. The razor-thin margin triggered a recount of more than 21,000 ballots and determined that the ban passed by 20 votes.
The haphazardly run election resulted in a scathing report issued by the Secretary of State’s office that documented more than 100 irregularities.
However, Melonakis said that report seemed hastily written and because there was no consultation with Broomfield election officials, it was “of little value to the court and not a credible or reliable resource in the resolution of this case.”
“The court elects to give the report little, if any, weight,” Melonakis said in his ruling.
The judge also brushed off the mysterious unsealed box of more than 75 ballots — including a batch from a nursing home — that was found stashed in the office of Broomfield Elections Manager Michael Susek nearly two months after the election. Handwritten on many of them was the word “Spoiled” or “1 of 2” by unknown persons.
“The practice was sloppy and not the best practice, as Mr. Susek testified, however, no legal violation occurred nor can the court find any irregularity rising to the level of fraud in the handling of the box and its contents,” Melonakis said in the ruling.
The judge blamed the election errors on HB 1303 that was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper last May and established a 22-day voter residency to cast a statewide ballot that conflicted with Broomfield’s 30-day requirement.
Adding to the problems, Melonakis said that the Secretary of State’s office delayed issuing rules based on the new law until October when the ballots were being mailed.
“The court finds that the steps taken by the City and County of Broomfield election officials to insure that all ballots that could be legally counted were counted and reasonable,” Melonakis said. “The steps taken were a reasonable, if imperfect attempt” to enfranchise voters.
Based on the testimony and evidence presented earlier this week, Melonakis ruled that only four ballots cast by ineligible voters may have been counted and that 10 ballots cast by eligible voters were not counted so the outcome of the election was not affected.
Craig Stewart, the lawyer who represented Cave and BBEC, disagreed. Stewart estimated that 24 eligible voters were disenfranchised and at least eight ineligible voters were over-franchised.
“We’re still studying the case and have not made a decision on whether to appeal,” said Stewart.