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AZTEC — A Democratic Party candidate hoping to challenge Rep. Harry Garcia, D-Grants, for the House of Representatives District 69 seat in the June primary elections has had the majority of the signatures on her nominating petitions challenged.

ReGina Zuni submitted eight pages of nominating petitions on March 10 containing 140 signatures. The District 69 seat requires a Democratic candidate to obtain at least 72 signatures from registered Democratic Party voters who live within the district boundaries.

Garcia’s attorney filed a complaint on March 19 in the 2nd Judicial District Court challenging 74 of Zuni’s 140 signatures. The complaint states that the signers were not registered voters, did not live in House District 69 or were not registered Democrats.

Garcia said he was looking over the nominating petitions when he noticed 10 signatures with the same post office box listed. That caught his attention and he asked his attorney to look into the signatures.

Garcia is running for his third term on the House of Representatives. He said he has never filed challenges about signatures on opponents' nominating petitions before, nor did he challenge the Republican candidate Roy Randall Ryan's signatures. He said people should not view it as anything personal against Zuni.

"Everybody has the right to run and whoever the people want that's who they'll elect," he said.

If those 74 signatures are ruled invalid, Zuni will be six signatures short of the required number to have her name listed on the June 2 primary election ballot.

The complaint further states that 70 other signatures appear to be written by the same individual.

House District 69 is a large district that includes portions of San Juan, McKinley, Cibola, Socorro and Bernalillo counties. The district includes the southeast corner of San Juan County

Zuni said the challenge to her nominating petitions highlights challenges Native Americans face in tribal communities.

The tribal elections are nonpartisan and Zuni said that can create confusion, especially for some of the older community members who do not speak much English. Zuni said there is not enough voter education provided for Native Americans.

She said she wanted to run for office to address some of the unique issues the Native American communities face in New Mexico.

“The state’s failed its indigenous people and tribes,” she said.

Another challenge that voters face in Native American communities is that the addresses may appear to be in a different district than the person actually lives, Zuni said.

For example, her name initially came up as an Albuquerque resident when she filed her candidacy paperwork. However, Zuni resides in Isleta.

If her signatures are disqualified and she fails to make the 72-signature cutoff, Zuni said she will likely file to run as a write-in candidate for the general election.

The majority of people who signed her nominating petitions listed post office boxes for their addresses. But she is hopeful that once the dust settles she will have enough valid signatures to be on the ballot.

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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