In a ruling that upends the Democratic U.S. Senate primary in Colorado, a Denver judge ruled Tuesday that a little-known candidate be placed on the June ballot despite only collecting half the necessary signatures to qualify for the election.
Denver District Court Judge Christopher Baumann ruled that the fact Michelle Ferrigno Warren, an immigration activist and first-time candidate, was able to collect half the necessary signatures “suggests Ms. Ferrigno Warren has a ‘significant modicum’ of support for her candidacy.”
The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office ruled that Ferrigno Warren did not qualify for the ballot because she didn’t collect enough signatures. But she then filed a lawsuit arguing that the outbreak of the new coronavirus made it impossible for her to collect sufficient signatures — 1,500 from Democratic voters in each of Colorado’s seven congressional districts — before the deadline on March 17.
Ferrigno Warren, a first-time candidate and immigration advocate who ran a modest campaign, collected 5,383 total valid signatures out of the 10,500 needed, and only collected enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in one of the state’s seven congressional districts. She needed to collect 1,500 signatures in each district, and in two districts only managed to get just 21% of the total needed.
“In the court’s judgment, a 50% (statewide) threshold is a reasonable line to draw in this particular case as it strikes a balance between still requiring Ms. Ferrigno Warren to demonstrate significant public support and acknowledging that through no fault of her own Ms. Ferrigno Warren was forced to operate within an environment much more onerous to contacting (let alone persuading) potential electors to express that support,” Baumann wrote in his ruling.
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold declined to comment on the ruling as she considers whether to appeal in the next three days.
The decision could breathe new life into the campaigns of two additional lesser-known U.S. Senate candidates who also failed to collect enough signatures to get on the primary ballot and blamed the spread of the coronavirus.
Climate activist Diana Bray also has filed a legal challenge seeking to revive her campaign, and Lorena Garcia, a community organizer, vowed to seek legal relief last week after falling short in her signature gathering.
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who collected a sufficient number of signatures, and former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who overwhelmingly won at the Democratic state assembly Saturday, are already on the ballot.
Ferrigno Warren said Colorado voters deserve an option outside of Hickenlooper and Romanoff.
“The voting choices before I came on the ballot was an establishment candidate and a career-politician,” she told The Colorado Sun on Tuesday shortly after the ruling was released, noting she’s the only woman on the ballot in a state that has never elected a woman to the U.S. Senate.
“I don’t align completely with either of them,” Ferrigno Warren added. “I think the people of Colorado deserve that third option.”
Ferrigno Warren scaled back her signature gathering on March 13 because of coronavirus and then stopped collecting signatures altogether the next day because of the risk to her staff. She also was told by the Secretary of State’s Office about legislation making its way through the Capitol that would have given her more time to collect signatures, but that provision was ultimately was rejected.
“The arrival of COVID-19 to our state has disrupted our community much more deeply and for much longer than anyone could have predicted,” Baumann wrote in his ruling.
Whoever wins the June primary will face Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in November.
Updated 8 a.m. April 22, 2020: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of the judge who issued the ruling. The order came from Denver District Court Judge Christopher Baumann.