SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Recounts are set to start next week in two close New Mexico legislative races that will determine the strength of the Democratic majority in the state House of Representatives.
The state Canvassing Board on Tuesday ordered the recounts to start on Dec. 4. The recounts are required under state law because the margin between the candidates is less than one-half of 1 percent.
There’s a tie in a southern New Mexico race between Republican Rep. Terry McMillan and Democrat Joanne Ferrary, both of Las Cruces. Each received 6,247 votes, according to results certified by the board. The district covers portions of Dona Ana County.
There was a 66-vote margin in a race for an Albuquerque-area House seat, with Republican Paul Pacheco of Albuquerque leading Democrat Marci Blaze of Corrales. The district covers parts of Sandoval and Bernalillo counties. There was no incumbent in the race.
County elections officials will conduct the recounts, but the state covers the costs. It could take several days for the recounts to be completed and the state board will meet later to ratify the final results.
If a race ends in a tie, the winner will be determined by a game of chance such as a flip of a coin.
In 1996, a GOP primary race for a state Senate seat was determined by a coin toss and the winner — William Payne of Albuquerque — still serves in the Legislature. Payne, a former Navy SEAL, is the No. 2 GOP leader in the Senate.
Regardless of who wins the recounts, Democrats will continue to hold a majority in the 70-member House. But if Democrats win both seats, the party will expand its majority to 40-30. If Republicans win both races, Democrats will have a 38-32 edge over the GOP.
Currently, Democrats hold a slim 36-33 majority and there’s one independent in the House, who lost his re-election bid.
There’s also a question about the outcome of a state Senate race in the Albuquerque area. Republican David Doyle, who currently serves in the House, has requested a recount of some precincts and voting sites in Sandoval County in his race against Democratic incumbent John Sapien. The district covers portions of Sandoval and Bernalillo County. Unofficial results showed Sapien leading by about six-tenths of a percentage point.
If Sapien wins re-election, Democrats will hold a 25-17 majority — down from 28-14 currently.
The canvassing board is scheduled to meet Dec. 7 to certify results of other general election races and constitutional amendments. The secretary of state’s office hadn’t finished its review and final tally of election results in time for Tuesday’s meeting.
Election returns must be certified before the winners can take office. Legislators don’t assume office until January but some newly elected judges can begin their jobs as soon as they are declared the winners. That’s true for a new member of the state Supreme Court, Democrat Barbara Vigil, who defeated Justice Paul Kennedy, a Republican who was appointed to the court in September by GOP Gov. Susana Martinez.
The canvassing board scheduled its Dec. 7 meeting in the morning — a few hours before Vigil is to be sworn in on the five-member Supreme Court.