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GOP incumbent remains on ballot after court decision

Sharon Clahchischilliage survives challenge to candidacy

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
State Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage reacts after winning her case Friday in Aztec District Court in keep her name on the June primary ballot as she seeks re-election.
  • Judge Karen Townsend ruled that adding a middle initial to a nominating petition is not an alteration of the required information.
  • Karen Mendenhall, an Albuquerque-based lawyer representing plaintiff Thomas Kellywood, argued that the middle initial was an alteration of the required information.
  • Clahchischilliage’s lawyer, Gary Risley of Farmington, argued that the name had not been altered by adding a middle initial.

AZTEC — A Republican incumbent will remain on the ballot as a candidate for the state House of Representatives District 4 seat.

A district court judge ruled in favor of Sharon Clahchischilliage today after her candidacy was challenged based on a handwritten middle initial on the header of her nominating petition.

Clahchischilliage, of Kirtland, was required to collect at least 23 signatures of registered Republican voters within her district to become a candidate. She added her middle initial, E, to the nominating petition so it would align with her voter registration.

Judge Karen Townsend ruled that adding a middle initial to a nominating petition is not an alteration of the required information.

The case hinged on a New Mexico statute that reads: “With or without a showing of fraud or reasonable opportunity for fraud, a nominating petition, including all signatures on the petition page, shall be invalid if any of the information required by Subsection D of this section is not listed on the petition before the petition is signed by a voter or if any of the required information is altered.”  

Subsection D states the party affiliation of voters signing the petition, the candidate’s name, the office sought by the candidate and the district are required information.

Karen Mendenhall, an Albuquerque-based lawyer representing plaintiff Thomas Kellywood, argued that the middle initial was an alteration of the required information.

District Court Judge Karen Townsend listens to attorney Karen Mendenhall, an Albuquerque-based lawyer representing plaintiff Thomas Kellywood, Friday in Aztec District Court.

“It is up to the candidate to make sure that the petitions are in compliance with the code,” she said.

Clahchischilliage’s lawyer, Gary Risley of Farmington, argued that the name had not been altered by adding a middle initial.

“There is no other Sharon Clahchischilliage registered to vote in San Juan County — E or no E,” Risley said.

Instead, Risley argued that the E merely supplemented or clarified the required information.

Risley also asked for the case to be dismissed on the grounds that no evidence was presented that Kellywood is a registered voter in San Juan County. Mendenhall said Kellywood is a registered voter who lives in San Juan County, but she did not have evidence of that, and Kellywood was unable to attend the hearing.

Risley also said the case should be dismissed because no evidence was presented that Clahchischilliage added the E after registered voters signed her nominating petition.

State Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, left, listens as her lawyer Gary Risley speaks Friday in Aztec District Court.

Both Mendenhall and Risley cited a court decision from earlier this year upheld the disqualification of Angel Peña. Peña was running as a Democrat for the U.S. House in District 2. Campaign volunteers struggled to print the ñ on some of his nominating petitions. The volunteers crossed out the n and added the ñ or crossed out the last name Pena and added the last name Peña.

In her ruling, Townsend also cited the case. She said Judge David Thompson, who ruled on Peña's case, ruled adding a tilde to the n would not be an alteration, but crossing out a character or the last name and replacing it with the ñ or Peña was an alteration.

Clahchischilliage said she is overjoyed about the outcome of the court case, and she is back on the campaign trail.

Kellywood has five days to appeal the decision to the New Mexico Supreme Court.

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