Three Democrats seeking the nomination to run against U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner turned in petitions before Tuesday's deadline, but two of them didn't collect enough signatures to make the ballot and all three say the coronavirus pandemic hindered their efforts.
Lorena Garcia, a nonprofit executive, said she delivered petitions bearing 13,824 signatures to the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, more than the required 10,500 — though she won't know for weeks whether a sufficient number are valid, until election officials finish verifying signatures.
"I’m so wildly proud of the entire team that was able to pull it off with so many different challengers that we were facing," Garcia told Colorado Politics. "Now the waiting game is going to be really hard."
She said her team of petition gatherers were slowed in recent weeks both by growing concerns about close contact between strangers and the cancellation of big events, like Denver's St. Patrick's Day parade, which had previously been rich troves of signatures.
Some of Garcia's volunteer circulators sidelined themselves to self-quarantine, she said, and she just had a "skeleton crew" going door to door in the final weekend.
"Through this pandemic, the reason people were so dedicated to get out there is because we are seeing so much lack of action, and the actions that are happening aren’t enough," she said.
In order to make the ballot, statewide candidates must collect 1,500 valid signatures from each of Colorado’s seven congressional districts, for a total of 10,500. A spokeswoman for Garcia's campaign wouldn't say whether she collected more than that number from each district.
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday became the first Democrat to qualify for the ballot after the Secretary of State's Office said he turned in 14,925 signatures, with roughly 86% of those his campaign submitted ruled valid. He submitted his petitions a month ago.
Colorado law only allows voters to sign one petition for the same office, so any signatures on Hickenlooper's petitions can't count toward Garcia's total.
Candidates can also qualify for the ballot by securing the support of 30% of delegates to their party's state assembly.
Hickenlooper, who finished second behind former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in a statewide straw poll that kicked off the caucus and assembly process, said Monday he was withdrawing from the assembly route — leaving Romanoff and three other candidates with significantly less support to pursue the nomination that way.
The other Democratic candidates who were attempting to petition their way onto the ballot submitted fewer than the required number of signatures.
Michelle Ferrigno Warren, a nonprofit founder and immigrant rights organizer, said she turned in about 9,000 signatures, coming up short after stopping collection Saturday due to coronavirus concerns.
“Stopping signature collection was not an easy decision, but I felt that I could no longer ask volunteers and paid canvassers to compromise their health, the health of their families or those citizens being asked to sign," she said in a statement.
She said she would file a motion in Denver District Court to ask a judge to put her on the ballot with the signatures she's collected, or to issue an order allowing another week to come up with more signatures once the COVID-19 emergency has passed.
“We had a plan in place and believed that our strategy would help us get across the finish line," Warren said. "I had no idea I would need to include ‘global pandemic’ into the equation.”
Psychologist and climate activist Diana Bray turned in petitions Monday but acknowledged they didn't contain the required number of signatures after she mostly halted signature-gathering two weeks before the deadline.
"It’s a risk to people who are collecting signatures, and it’s a risk for people being asked to sign," Bray said. "I started to notice people didn’t want to take my pen about two weeks ago, and people didn’t want to come to the door. I increasingly felt like it was not the right thing to be doing."
Bray told Colorado Politics she wants the governor to issue an order putting all the primary candidates on the ballot and then conduct the June election using ranked-choice voting.
Romanoff told Colorado Politics he hadn't seen the motion Warren filed in court yet but would be happy to sign on, in keeping with a position he spelled out on Twitter:
"Today is the deadline to submit petitions for (the U.S. Senate) and other races. Although we didn’t take that route, I believe it would be unfair to penalize candidates who did. The pandemic impeded signature gathering," he said.
"The courts — or the (legislature), upon reconvening — should take that into account. A court could do so by finding a candidate who submitted fewer than the required number of signatures 'substantially compliant' with the law. The legislature could do so by lowering the signature threshold in light of these extraordinary circumstances. No perfect solutions here."