Legal questions raised about candidates filings

March 24, 2012 • State News

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Attorney General Gary King’s office offered a legal defense Friday for the Senate’s top leader and several other candidates to remain on the primary election ballot despite the omission of some required information from their filing papers.

In a memo to the state’s top election official, King’s office said past legal rulings suggest that a New Mexico court would not reject the candidates because of a technical problem in the nominating [auth] petitions submitted by the candidates when they filed for office earlier this week.

Secretary of State Dianna Duran had asked King whether she should exclude Senate President Tim Jennings, a Roswell Democrat, and 11 other candidates from the June ballot.

At issue is what to do with candidates who failed to list on their nominating petitions the political district in which they’re seeking to run. A change in law in 2011 required petitions to include the district designation and certain other information. This is the first election for the new petition information to be in effect, which means no court has issued a ruling on the legal question posed to the attorney general.

Nominating petitions must contain a certain number of voter signatures for a candidate to qualify for the ballot, and the new law says nominating petitions and their signatures “shall be invalid” if any of the required information “is not listed before the petition is signed by a voter.”

“In the absence of any evidence of fraud or bad faith, it is unlikely that a court would require strict adherence to the statutory requirements at the cost of denying a significant number of voters their constitutional right to participate in the election process,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Tania Maestas.

Jennings said he was unaware of the change in law and the state’s nominating petition form wasn’t updated to make clear that candidates needed to list their political office district.

In filing for office, he said, candidates have to prove that they live in their district by submitting a voter registration form from their home county.

“There is absolutely no intent to defraud,” said Jennings, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary but drew two GOP challengers.

In a letter to the attorney general’s office Thursday, Duran said the petition question was raised by Rep. Thomas Garcia, D-Ocate, who filed to run against Democratic Sen. Pete Campos of Las Vegas.

Campos’ petitions listed “State Senate” as the office he was seeking but failed to indicate that he was running in District 8, which covers part of north-central New Mexico.

Duran said conflicting state law makes it unclear whether she should declare the candidate filings invalid, leaving it to those individuals to challenge her decision, or allow the candidates on the ballot and let their potential election opponents bring a lawsuit challenging the candidacy.

According to Duran, other candidates failing to list the district information are Republican Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, an Albuquerque Republican running unopposed; and Reps. Rick Little, R-Chaparral; Dianne Hamilton, R-Silver City; James Roger Madalena, D-Jemez Pueblo; and Rudolpho “Rudy” Martinez, D-Bayard.

The petition question also applies to Public Education Commission member Vince Bergman, a Roswell Republican running unopposed; Public Regulation Commission candidate Karen Montoya, one of three Albuquerque Democrats seeking the party’s nomination; and three House challengers: Joshua Madalena of Jemez Pueblo, one of three Democrats running against Sen. Lynda Lovejoy, D-Crownpoint; Louis Luna, a Deming Democrat who filed against Rep. Dona Irwin, D-Deming; and Guadalupe Cano of Silver City, one of two Democrats challenging Hamilton.

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