A Bernalillo County man is suing Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver over rules regarding special elections he says discriminate against candidates not affiliated with a major political party.
J. Edward Hollington’s complaint, filed Wednesday in state District Court, references a special election that will be needed to fill Congresswoman Deb Haaland’s seat if she is confirmed as secretary of the interior.
The complaint says candidates who aren’t Democrats, Republicans or Libertarians face a much tougher time getting their names on the ballot than affiliated candidates because of the way the state’s elections are run.
While major party candidates must seek the support of usually 200 or fewer State Central Committee members to be named their party’s candidate, independent candidates “face a significantly more daunting path” as they must collect signatures equal to 2 percent of the total number of votes cast in the district, the complaint says.
In the 2020 general election, 321,290 votes were cast in the 1st Congressional District race, according to the lawsuit, meaning unaffiliated candidates would need to gather 6,426 signatures.
Due to eligibility issues that could arise with the signatures, the lawsuit says, candidates seeking to be assured a place on the ballot would realistically need to gather two to three times that number in a 21- to 35-day time frame following the announcement of a special election.
“The special election regime described above imposes an unequal burden on and discriminates against independent candidates and voters,” Hollington’s attorney, Kenneth H. Stalter, wrote in the complaint.
“Although we have not yet been served, these challenges to New Mexico’s law governing how independent candidates can run in a special congressional election are not new and have been thus far rejected by the courts,” secretary of state spokesman Alex Curtas wrote in an email Thursday.
“An independent candidate is not similarly situated to a qualified political party candidate seeking to be included on a special election ballot.
“Qualified political parties go through a much more rigorous process to be included on the ballot and have already demonstrated a substantial level of support, unlike independent candidates,” Curtas wrote. “If the court agreed to the relief requested by the Plaintiff, independent candidates would have no ability to field a candidate in a special election. We think the dismissal of this case is appropriate.”
As of December, there were 611,746 Democrats, 427,339 Republicans and 12,613 Libertarians registered to vote in New Mexico as well as 293,151 voters who identified themselves as independents or declined to state a party affiliation, according to data provided by Curtas.
An additional 14,627 voters were defined as belonging to “other [minor parties].”
Hollington couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. He is described in the complaint as a registered voter who is not a member of any political party.
His complaint asks the court to declare the clauses of state statute regarding the signatures unconstitutional and to prevent the the statute from being enforced while the lawsuit is pending. He is proposing independent candidates only be required to obtain 200 votes to get on the ballot.
“This will put independent candidates on even footing with party candidates,” the complaint says.