Gomez wins and Garcia loses in hearing over disputed election

Rob Nikolewski
|
Aug 22, 2014 8:37 PM
Gomez wins and Garcia loses in hearing over disputed election
JUST 16 VOTES: A district judge refused to overturn a close election that saw incumbent state Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, left, lose by 16 votes to challenger Bill Gomez.

JUST 16 VOTES: A district judge refused to overturn a close election that saw incumbent state Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, left, lose by 16 votes to challenger Bill Gomez.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

It looks like Mary Helen Garcia‘s 18-year run at the Roundhouse may be over.

A district court judge on Friday refused to throw out disputed absentee ballots in House District 34 race that saw challenger Bill Gomez edge past Garcia by 16 votes in the June Democratic Party primary.

“The outcome of the election is not overturned,” 3rd Judicial District Judge Jim Martin ruled after hearing a day of testimony.

Since there is no Republican in the District 34 race, the road is clear for Gomez to take the seat when the state Legislature convenes its upcoming 60-day session in January.

“We won, that’s all I have to say,” Gomez told New Mexico Watchdog by telephone shortly after the verdict was announced. “We’ll have a press release tomorrow morning.”

New Mexico Watchdog was unable to reach Garcia, a retired teacher who is an influential member of the House on education issues since being elected in 1996, but Chris Saucedo, Garcia’s attorney, said they’ll appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court.

But time is running out. Doña Ana County officials say they need to print the ballots for November by Sept. 2.

At issue Friday were more than 40 absentee ballots cast in two precincts in Sunland Park, a town inside Doña Ana County that has a rich reputation for political controversy.

Garcia claimed that a number of the absentee ballots were fraudulently cast and a hand-writing expert testified on Garcia’s behalf Friday, questioning the validity of many of the signatures on the ballots.

Garcia lost the absentee balloting in the two Sunland Park precincts to Gomez, 82-8, so if the judge decided to throw out at least 17 of the votes, Garcia would win.

But by the end of a hearing that took the entire day, Martin said he was persuaded by depositions from voters who insisted they had indeed signed the ballots.