Election 2020 Lorena Garcia

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Lorena Garcia talks with a voter at a forum sponsored by progressive groups on June 9, 2019, at a Denver park.

Lorena Garcia will be joining three other Democrats on Colorado's U.S. Senate primary ballot, a Denver District Court judge ruled late Thursday.

Ruling from the bench, Judge Christopher J. Baumann ordered state election officials to include Garcia's name on the June primary ballot after determining that the nonprofit executive's campaign collected enough signatures in a petition drive that encountered unprecedented obstacles as the coronavirus pandemic arrived in the state.

Last week, Baumann used the same rationale when he ordered immigrant rights activist Michelle Ferrigno Warren onto the primary ballot, along with former Gov. John Hickenlooper and former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who had already qualified by petition and through the caucus and assembly process, respectively.

The winner of the June 30 primary will face Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in what is expected to be among the most expensive and hard-fought Senate races in the country this year.

“Our grassroots team organized nearly 200 volunteers all across Colorado to collect signatures to make sure that Coloradans have a true people-centered candidate on the ballot this June,” Garcia said in a statement.

“COVID19 has turned everyone’s world upside down, including political campaigns, and we are pleased with the decision of the court.”

The primary ballot has yet to be finalized.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, late last week asked the Colorado Supreme Court to reverse the ruling that put Warren to the ballot, arguing that Baumann set the bar too low when he decided she had qualified despite only gathering 5,383 valid signatures, about half the number required.

State law requires major-party candidate for statewide office, including the U.S. Senate, to turn in 10,500 valid signatures from fellow party members, including 1,500 from each of Colorado's seven congressional districts.

Warren sued for ballot access the same day she turned in her petitions on March 16, arguing that social distancing and widespread public unease over the looming COVID-19 outbreak in the weeks before petitions were due made it impossible to meet the statutory threshold.

A ruling by the supreme court on Warren's case is expected within days.

Baumann ruled on Tuesday that another Democratic candidate whose petitions came up short did not qualify for the primary. Climate activist Diana Bray, who had just 2,724 valid signatures, failed to demonstrate sufficient support statewide, the judge said.

Before Garcia took her case to court, Griswold determined that she submitted 9,427 valid signatures after discarding 1,744 signatures from voters who hadn't been registered Democrats for the required 29 days or who signed petitions for another candidate for the same office.

Both numbers prompted Garcia's campaign to cheer, with her signature total likely to pass muster even under the stricter standards Griswold proposed when she appealed the Warren decision, and the number of recently affiliated Democrats suggesting Garcia's campaign is "reaching beyond the Democratic Party."

“Our campaign has had to contend with a lot of barriers, but this victory proves that Colorado is ready for a new type of leadership,” Garcia said. “Having earned the widespread support of Democrats, unaffiliated voters and even some Republicans, our campaign is reaching the people and our message of justice and equity is resonating across party lines.”

A Griswold spokeswoman didn't say whether the secretary plans to appeal the ruling adding Garcia to the ballot.

"The Secretary of State's Office wants to ensure our democratic processes remain accessible and fair, and recognizes the ongoing challenges posed by the coronavirus," Betsy Hart, communications director for the Department of State, told Colorado Politics in a written statement. "In light of this ruling, we will consider the various options and determine that best path forward.

Griswold has until May 7 to deliver a certified primary ballot to county clerks, who can start mailing ballots to most Colorado voters on June 9.

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