If Santa Fe City Council candidate Rebecca Romero is elected Nov. 2, she will need a lot of help from the highest authority in the Land of Enchantment to actually take office.
Romero — who is running for the District 4 seat against Santa Fe Public Schools special-education director Amanda Chavez — would need a pardon from the governor to serve since she pleaded guilty to a slew of embezzlement, credit card fraud and forgery charges 15 years ago, when she about 22 years old.
Romero will remain on the ballot — the deadline to withdraw was Aug. 31 — but the revelation has seriously complicated her candidacy.
According to state statute and the state constitution, a felony prohibits people from holding public office or voting unless they receive a pardon from the governor or have their "political rights" restored.
Romero has stated her ability to vote was reinstated after she completed probation in 2014, and voting records show she has voted regularly since 2016, but Secretary of State Communications Director Alex Curtas wrote in an email that the right to vote isn't the same as the right to hold office.
"If a person is a convicted felon they cannot hold office unless they complete all the terms of their sentence and then receive a pardon from the governor," he wrote. "A person who has a felony conviction can have their voting rights restored once they've completed the terms of their sentence, but that's separate from the holding office issue."
City Attorney Erin McSherry noted Wednesday that, based on case law, it's possible that if Romero were elected, she could become eligible in the time between the election and when she would take office in January.
In the 1999 New Mexico Supreme Court case Lopez v. Kase, the court found Patricia Ann Richardson, a Sierra County Commission candidate with a felony conviction, was eligible to take office after being elected by a large margin a year prior and receiving a pardon.
The district attorney for the 7th Judicial District in Socorro was informed via an anonymous phone call of Richardson's conviction, and a few days later filed a successful emergency writ of prohibition in a bid to prevent her from being sworn in and a stay on her swearing-in ceremony.
In 1971, Richardson pleaded guilty to making false entries in a bank record and received a suspended sentence of two years of probation. In December 1998, she was pardoned by then-Gov. Gary Johnson.
"We conclude that Richardson became eligible to hold office when, prior to taking the oath of office, she received the Governor's certificate," the state Supreme Court wrote in its findings.
There have been other cases in which New Mexico officials were found to have felony records after being elected.
In 2016, Anthony Leroy Benavidez was asked to resign from the West Las Vegas Schools board by the state Attorney General's Office after it was discovered he pleaded guilty to a felony drug possession charge in 2002.
He first challenged the Attorney's General Office, then resigned a week after the agency warned him in a letter that he'd otherwise face criminal or civil action.
Santa Fe County Clerk Katharine E. Clark wrote in an email that if a candidate does not meet all requirements to hold a position, the office recommends the county commission not certify the election results and leave the position vacant.
If the candidate did not receive the necessary pardon, an appointee could fill the position, she wrote.
In an email, Romero said she recently discovered a pardon was required for her to hold office and is "working on that issue."
Pardons have been infrequent under the past two governors.
Gov. Susana Martinez issued three pardons over her eight years in office, compared with 38 across two clemency acts by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Gov. Bill Richardson issued 74 pardons in eight years.