LAS CRUCES — Former Sunland Park mayoral candidate Gerardo Hernandez expressed disappointment over a judge's decision this week to reject his bid for the mayor's seat.
State District Judge Mannie Arrieta didn't find enough evidence of vote irregularities or fraud to overturn the outcome of the city's March 2012 mayor's race.
"He wanted us to prove 89 votes" were invalid, Hernandez said. "And it's almost impossible to do. We don't have the kind of resources we need to prove those facts."
Continued Hernandez: "We'd need a handwriting specialist because all the evidence we found was based on the naked-eye."
Hernandez lost the election by 88 votes to indicted former mayoral candidate Daniel Salinas, who never took office because of a court order in connection with his arrest.
The ruling came Monday after hours of pouring through more than 100 of absentee ballot applications that Hernandez and his attorney had claimed were irregular and in some cases fraudulent.
Hernandez had challenged the election outcome in court, alleging that widespread fraud was behind his loss. Hernandez said he feels the court "closed the door on us." And the decision sends the wrong message, he contended.
"The way I see it is: 'It's OK to commit a little fraud, but not a lot," he said. "That shouldn't be permitted to happen in our state."
Arrieta's ruling puts an end to months of uncertainty about the mayor's position. City council-appointed Mayor Javier Perea will remain
A look back
Hernandez is the candidate whose reporting to authorities of an extortion threat against him broke open a widespread public corruption scandal in Sunland Park city government one year ago. A stranger threatened to publicly release a video of Hernandez receiving a lap dance, if he didn't drop out of the race for mayor.
Among those arrested in the alleged extortion plot were former Sunland Park mayor-elect Daniel Salinas, who's still jailed and awaiting trial, and former City Manager Jaime Aguilera, who pleaded guilty to extortion and evidence-tampering charges in December. Salinas, too, faces a slew of other charges; he has pleaded not guilty.
Deputy Doña Ana County Clerk Mario Jimenez, whose office carried out an in-depth review of Sunland Park voting documents, said the judge's conclusion is similar to his own office's findings. Only nine votes were determined to be fraudulent from the election, he said.
In all, Salinas got 644 votes, Hernandez had 556 and a third candidate had 66, according to Jimenez.
Jimenez testified in this week's civil trial.
Hernandez and his campaign supporters suggested that other people may have illegally signed key election documents, in place of an actual voter. But a hand-writing expert would have been needed to analyze that, something his campaign didn't have.
During the civil trial, Arrieta pointed out that, because of the secrecy of the ballot, there's no way to know which mayoral candidate a particular ballot applicant voted for.
In spite of his concerns over the trial outcome, Hernandez said he doesn't plan to appeal because that would be too costly. But he'll remain active as an advocate for residents in their dealings with the city. And he'll likely run in the city's next election.
"My fight is against corruption," he said. "I'm going to keep fighting and be watching all the issues."
Diana Alba Soular can be reached at (575) 541-5443; follow her on Twitter @AlbaSoular
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