The first few weeks of March are often a sprint for Colorado political candidates. With a deadline looming, campaigns are rushing to collect the thousands of signatures needed to secure a place in the primary ballot. This is pure retail policy.
“This last six-day week was when you would normally hit hard,” said Ken Drew, campaign manager for Democratic state Senate candidate Maria Orms.
Mars is not so normal anymore.
The coronavirus outbreak has anchored campaigns just as the March 17 signing deadline approaches. Voters are unwilling to pick up pens and volunteers are reluctant to ring the doorbell. One State House candidate – Pastor Terrence “Big T” Hughes – is quarantined after being diagnosed with COVID-19, his family says.
“There has already been a lot of speculation about how the virus was contracted. Speculation abounds, but I dare not speak with any certainty regarding collecting petitions or any other political function, ”wrote Reginald Holmes, co-pastor of Hughes.
Hughes was hospitalized with pneumonia and intubated last week, according to a statement released by his family. It was a sobering reminder that COVID-19 is particularly threatening to the elderly who are often most involved in party politics.
The campaigns stop
Collecting signatures is one of two ways to conduct a state ballot. Candidates can also try to gain support at party political meetings statewide. The parties are moving many of these assemblies and conventions to virtual formats, but the state has not made any changes to the signing process.
Still, some campaigns – including that of Orms – canceled signature collection with a week or more to go. Drew said the thought was, “OK, if we keep going like this, either someone we pay is going to get sick, or one of our volunteers, or one of those old people who opens the door.” “
The campaign still believes it got the 1,000 valid signatures it needs to vote, albeit with less margin for error than Drew would like. Others are not so confident.
“I didn’t understand what they are asking,” said Democratic US Senate candidate Diana Bray, who recalled her volunteers in the last two weeks of the eight-week signing period. She needed 10,500 valid signatures from across the state.
“I have been campaigning for a year and dedicated my life, heart and soul to it, and of course I thought it was going to make it very difficult to get to the polls,” she said of her decision. to freeze his signature reader.
“But I just couldn’t be an accomplice” in putting people at risk, Bray added.
Former Governor John Hickenlooper handed in his signatures early and has already been certified by the Secretary of State for the US Senate primary ballot. At the same time, he withdrew from the caucus and rally process, citing “lingering public health and safety issues.” This leaves the way of the assembly open for his rival Andrew Romanoff, who has dominated this process, and perhaps opens up space for another candidate to also get enough support from the delegates – 30% or more – to make the ballot.
Request a solution
Bray knew she hadn’t met the requirement, but she still handed in her signatures on Monday. She hopes state officials change the requirements in light of the outbreak.
“How do you measure what 120 people would have done in two weeks? Bray asked.
She wants the state to allow all candidates to participate in the primary ballot, then institute a “ranked choice” system. It would give voters more power, she said.
Drew, of the Orms campaign, wants the state to simply lower signing requirements to reflect the shortened collection period. The current approach unfairly harms candidates who take the signature route, he argued.
Others suggested extending the signature deadline. It was part of the conversation between state lawmakers and the Secretary of State’s office last week, but lawmakers ultimately failed to address it.
Instead, they passed a law that allows parties to hold virtual assemblies and conventions. This will allow a branch of the primary process to continue uninterrupted, but it will not help applicants who have decided to go the route of signing instead.
Romanoff said on Tuesday the state should lower signing requirements – a change that would not apply to his campaign’s run through the state assembly.
“Although we did not go down this route, I think it would be unfair to penalize the candidates who did. The pandemic has hampered the collection of signatures,” he tweeted. He suggested that the courts of the legislature intervene.
House Majority Leader Alec garnett disagrees that caucus and assembly candidates would have an advantage. The legislator focused on the assemblies because they were “big groups” that attract the elderly and pose a greater risk to public health.
Garnett said the suggestions to change the signing requirements are “a fair question, and I think we can kind of have a discussion about it.”
But the time for that may be up. Signing requirements are set by law, and since lawmakers have done nothing to change that, Tuesday remains the deadline. Secretary of State Jena Griswold’s office said she had not advocated “one way or another” to change those requirements.
“I think everyone is focused on today’s safe candidate petition deadline,” spokesman Steve Hurlbert wrote.
What future for the campaign?
The shutdown could also reshape the general election race.
A big question is what this will mean for voting initiatives. Activists want voters to speak out on topics ranging from housing growth to criminal justice, and they also need signatures to be on the ballot. Eight different initiatives are potentially in the signature collection stage right now, and more are earlier in the process.
“There are two sides: everyone is at home. But I don’t know how many people are meeting their doors at this point, ”said Michael Fields, a conservative organizer of a proposal to restrict the use of fees by the state legislature.
Canvassing companies are still offering to work, according to Daniel Hayes, who wants voters to approve growth limits on the Front Range. He’s in talks with a contractor whose workers travel with hand sanitizer, and he thinks the anti-development initiative will be attractive “because, frankly, I don’t think people want a ton of people. come here “in the midst of a pandemic.
But with his signatures expected at the beginning of June, he only puts his chances of going to the poll of 50-50. “I think now is the perfect time to do it, but who knew this was the year it would happen? “
State economists are hoping the worst of the virus’ impacts will pass by the summer, perhaps leaving time for a normal fall campaign. But the candidates are gearing up for an unusual season.
“Whatever we do, it won’t look like traditional politics. You won’t be able to knock on doors, kiss babies, ”Drew said. “What does a virtual campaign look like? “
The Democratic Party, he suggested, should work on the infrastructure for online debates only and other adjustments.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with Romanoff’s comment.