State law prohibits altering header on nominating petition

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FARMINGTON — State Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Kirtland, may not be on the Republican primary election ballot in June because she hand wrote her middle initial on her nominating petitions.

A complaint has been filed in district court to have her removed from the ballot. The complaint was filed by a registered voter in her district, Thomas Kellywood.

A hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Friday in Aztec District Court.

State law prohibits altering the header on a nominating petition. Candidates for state office must collect nominating signatures from voters who live in the district they hope to represent. The number of signatures required depends on a candidate's party affiliation and the position she or he seeks. Clahchischilliage was required to obtain at least 23 signatures.

The 2018 candidate guide available from the New Mexico Secretary of State's Office states, "A nominating petition shall be considered invalid if the required information is not listed on the petition before the petition is signed by a voter or if any of the required information is altered. Do not scratch out, use white out, or otherwise alter the items filled in on the header of the petition form."

Clahchischilliage is running unopposed in the Republican primary elections for the state House of Representatives District 4. She likely will face Democratic Party candidate Anthony Allison in the general election if she remains on the ballot.

“It was an effort to make sure my name was correct and corresponded with my voter registration information,” Clahchischilliage said when reached by phone, explaining the addition of her middle initial to the petitions.

Her name on her voter registration is Sharon E. Clahchischilliage, which is also how it will appear on the ballot if she wins her legal battle.

“I just hope that we have a fair judge and that we have a reasonable judge,” she said.

Clahchischilliage said she views the challenge to her candidacy as a partisan issue.

“It goes back to the control of the House,” she said. “There’s definitely a desire for the Democrats to keep their control of the House.”

She said she was surprised that the middle initial issue would matter more than the number of signatures she received from voters who want her name on the ballot.

“If I get off the ballot for that, that’s a pretty sad situation,” she said.

Allison said he was surprised when he heard of the challenge to Clahchischilliage's candidacy. He said did not file the complaint and did not know who had filed it. He said she has been elected several times and has filed candidacy paperwork several times. Allison said he thought Clahchischilliage would be used to the requirements for filing candidacy paperwork.

Joey Keefe, a spokesman for the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office, said if Clahchischilliage loses the district court case, she can appeal the decision to the New Mexico Supreme Court. The state Supreme Court's decision would be final.

Keefe said if Clahchischilliage were to lose the court case, she would be eligible to file for the office as a write-in candidate for the general election in November. But Clahchischilliage herself pointed out the impracticality of that option.

"Could you imagine people trying to spell my last name?" she said.

Clahchischilliage is one of two incumbent Republican candidates for the state House who are facing a challenge based on their nominating petition. Valencia County Rep. Kelly Fajardo’s surname was misspelled on some of the nominating petitions.

Albuquerque-based lawyer Karen Mendenhall is representing the plaintiffs in the Fajardo and Clahchischilliage cases, but she could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

A Democratic Party candidate for the 2nd Congressional District was removed from the primary ballot earlier this year because some of his campaign volunteers had struggled to print the ñ in his name. The Albuquerque Journal reported volunteers for Angel Peña's campaign corrected the ñ after printing the forms used to gather signatures.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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