DENVER – The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday reversed a district court ruling that allowed Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Michelle Ferrigno Warren onto June’s primary ballot despite her not gathering enough valid signatures.
Ferrigno Warren was ordered onto the ballot in a decision last week made by Denver District Court Judge Christopher Baumann. He said that though she had only gathered about half the signatures she needed to get onto the primary ballot and didn’t meet congressional district requirements, the COVID-19 outbreak created extenuating circumstances on signature gathering and that she had garnered enough support considering the outbreak.
The secretary of state’s office, headed by Democrat Jena Griswold, appealed the decision.
In a unanimous decision issued Monday, the Colorado Supreme Court disagreed with the district court’s ruling
“While substantial compliance is the standard for technical deficiencies in the election law context, the Election Code’s minimum-signature mandate requires strict compliance,” the court wrote. “Because Ferrigno Warren did not meet the threshold signature requirement, the Secretary properly declined to place her on the ballot.”
The court wrote that it recognizes “unprecedented” circumstances surrounding signature gathering during the COVID-19 outbreak but wrote that only the General Assembly can re-write the Elections Code – which the court noted lawmakers did not do in regard to signature requirements despite making some other changes.
“In the absence of legislative change, even when a worldwide pandemic has changed so much, the minimum signature requirements are fixed,” the court wrote. “…The Election Code’s minimum signature mandate requires strict compliance. Ferrigno Warren did not collect the required 1,500 signatures from each congressional district.”
In a statement, Ferrigno Warren said she was disappointed by the court’s decision but proud of her campaign and its supporters.
“I am so grateful to the thousands of people in Colorado who signed our petition, donated to our campaign, and followed us on social media,” she said. “While the ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court today was a disappointment, I will continue to do what I have done for years – fight for bold leadership that will level the playing field for our families to have an opportunity to succeed – no matter their gender, race, age, sexual orientation, or zip code.”
Baumann also placed Lorena Garcia on the ballot in a similar decision. Her campaign spokeswoman, Meghan Dougherty, said the campaign had not received any communication from the court or Secretary of State's Office on the decision and how that might affect her candidacy.
“Lorena Garcia is focused on her campaign and is on the ballot. The campaign appreciates Sec. Griswold’s understanding of how Covid-19 impacted the signature campaign and grateful to her commitment to ensure fair access to the ballot during this difficult time. Garcia is moving forward and looking forward to the next phase,” Dougherty said in a statement.
The Secretary of State's Office said it believed the Supreme Court upheld the law since lawmakers did not change it and that it was working with the Colorado Attorney General's Office on the next steps in Garcia's case.
“The Secretary of State's office recognizes the challenges posed by the coronavirus, and believes our democratic processes must remain accessible and fair during this trying time. We had hoped the Colorado Supreme Court would develop a uniform standard applicable to all similar cases that took into account the impact of coronavirus on candidate signature-gathering efforts,” spokesperson Betsy Hart said in a statement.
“In its ruling today, however, the Supreme Court upheld the law as it currently stands without incorporating the impact of coronavirus. The Supreme Court instead indicated that it is incumbent upon the legislature to make changes to existing law, despite the extenuating circumstances,” Hart added.
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper and former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff have already qualified for the Democratic primary ballot. The winner is expected to face Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., in November's General Election.r