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FARMINGTON — Voters chose a mix of experienced candidates and fresh faces today as party nominees were chosen in the primary election for the San Juan County Sheriff's Office, the County Commission, local judgeships and other offices.

All vote totals today were unofficial.

In the county's most high-profile contested race, Undersheriff Shane Ferrari will be on the November ballot after he easily defeated Farmington businessman and philanthropist Tommy Bolack in the race for the GOP nomination for San Juan County sheriff.

In the race for the Democratic nomination for the District 1 seat on the San Juan County Commission, challenger GloJean Todacheene finished first in a field that consisted of three other candidates.

Republican Gary McDaniel won the primary for the Republican Division 1 magistrate judge position by more than 475 votes over incumbent Erich Cole.

The top two candidates for the Republican nomination for the probate judge position were within about 120 votes of each other, but Stacey Biel claimed a narrow victory over Gary Risley.

Incumbent District 4 Public Regulation Commissioner Lynda Lovejoy narrowly lost her spot on the Democratic ballot to challenger and former commissioner Theresa Becenti-Aguilar after a hard-fought three-way race.

Various other candidates across the county ran uncontested for their party's nomination today and advanced to the November general election.

Ferrari's message gets through

In the sheriff's race, Bolack ran on a promise to change the agency and to be tough on crime while Ferrari touted his 20 years of experience with the office.

Ferrari said he believes his résumé was the determining factor in the primary campaign.

“I believe San Juan County wants an experienced lawman to be their sheriff,” Ferrari said.

Ferrari and his supporters gathered at the Fraternal Order of Police headquarters to wait for the election results.

The early and absentee ballot results began coming in shortly after polls closed at 7 p.m., and Ferrari raced to an early lead he never relinquished.

"I'm pretty well done," Bolack said at about 9 p.m. of the returns that saw him trailing by a wide margin. "I don't plan on ever running for another office. At least I gave it a try."

Ferrari received 8,019 votes, and Bolack received 1,297 votes.

Ferrari said the primary election was a challenge because he was up against an opponent with a lot of money to spend. He said that pushed him to work 10 times as hard.

The most recent campaign finance reports showed Bolack having spent $247,000 on the race.

Ferrari likely will face former Bloomfield Police Chief Mike Kovacs, who has been campaigning as an independent candidate, in the November election. Independent and minor party candidates will file candidacy paperwork on June 28.

Kovacs previously ran for sheriff in 2014, but was defeated by current Sheriff Ken Christesen. Christesen has reached term limits and is not running for re-election.

Ferrari, who did not draw a Democratic opponent, said he is looking forward to the general election.

“It’s a whole new election,” he said.

He said he will be campaigning to expand his voter base, including reaching out to people on Navajo Nation as well as Democrats, Libertarians and independent voters.

Todacheene bests incumbent Charley

In the County Commission race, Todacheene received 619 votes. Incumbent Wallace Charley had 495 votes, Wetona Becenti received 311 votes and Zachariah George had 294 votes.

Todacheene said she looks forward to working with leaders in the county as well as at the chapters and in tribal government.

She previously served two terms as county commissioner but could not run in 2014 due to term limits.

One issue she sees the county facing is opportunities for employment.

"I know where we can make laws and regulations better for small businesses, it's important. …It helps grow the economy," she said.

There were no Republican or Libertarian candidates running for the District 1 seat, which consists of a portion of Kirtland and the western and southern sections of the county.

Todacheene could run unopposed for the general election on Nov. 6 if no independent, write-in or third-party candidates file candidacy paperwork on June 28.

McDaniel defeats two other hopefuls

In the Division 1 magistrate judge race, McDaniel won with 1,320 votes to Cole's 844 votes with Frank Dart taking 247 votes.

Cole was appointed to the bench by Gov. Susana Martinez on Dec. 22 and sworn in Jan. 5 by Karen Townsend, chief judge for the 11th Judicial District Court.

The appointment was made to fill the spot vacated by former Magistrate Judge Connie Johnston, who was removed from the bench and permanently barred from holding a judicial office statewide by the New Mexico Supreme Court on Oct. 23.

McDaniel has previously served as a magistrate judge for San Juan County.

"I appreciate all the voters exercising their right provided to them by the Constitution," McDaniel said.

He thanked all his supporters and said he is eager for the November general election, a contest in which he has not drawn any opposition.

Biel survives close race

Biel won the GOP nomination for the probate judge race with 3,518 votes with Risley getting 3,392 votes and Brandt Thrower coming in third with 1,965 votes.

Incumbent Larry Thrower reached his term limits for the bench and could not run again.

Biel has previously served as a magistrate judge, ascending to the bench in January 2005.

She said she wanted to thank everyone who voted for her and said she appreciated their support.

"It was very gratifying going door to door and meeting the different people in our county," Biel said.

Biel is running unopposed in the November general election.

Turnout was comparatively high

When San Juan County Clerk Tanya Shelby compared the numbers from the 2014 primary to this year’s election, she said the voter turnout was higher this year.

She said in 2014 there were 2,984 early votes cast, and this year 4,442 people voted early.

The results were still being tallied tonight, but Shelby said there were more ballots cast today than in 2014.

“We had a line at (the voting convenience center at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park) when we started,” Shelby said.

She said early voting started slow but picked up as the election approached.

There were 52,737 San Juan County voters who were eligible to vote in the primary election, and more than 25 percent of the eligible voters cast ballots.

Razor-thin margin in PRC race upset

The Democratic primary race for the Public Regulation Commission’s District 4 seat was nearly a statistical dead heat most of the night until challenger Becenti-Aguilar pulled ahead of Lovejoy by a narrow 2-point lead shortly after 10:30 p.m.

After 11:30 p.m., she held the lead, ending with 34.98 percent of the vote to incumbent Lovejoy's 33.45 percent.

Candidate Janene Yazzi was in third place with 31.58 percent of the vote.

If Lovejoy had pulled within 1 percent of Becenti-Aquilar, an automatic recount would have been triggered.

The winner will run unopposed in the fall for a seat on the regulatory panel that represents northwest New Mexico, unless an independent challenger appears on the June 28 filing date.

Hannah Grover, Joshua Kellogg, John R. Moses and Noel Lyn Smith contributed to this story.

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