Keith Gardner loses court battle to keep challenger off the ballot

By Deborah Baker: The Associated Press

SANTA FE — A Republican lawmaker from Roswell has lost his court fight to knock a challenger off the June 6 primary election ballot.

The state Supreme Court, affirming a lower court decision, ruled Wednesday that Lucille B. Tucker’s name will appear on the ballot in the race for the House seat held by Rep. Keith Gardner.

Gardner had argued that Tucker should be disqualified for altering nominating petitions signed by voters in support of her candidacy.

Tucker acknowledged changing the number of the House district on petitions, but she told the Supreme Court during a hearing that she “did not knowingly try to deceive anyone.”
The retired teacher said in an interview that when she first decided to run for the Legislature, she thought she lived in House District 59 — an open seat because GOP Rep. Avon Wilson had decided not to run again.

After Tucker discovered she lived in District 66 — Gardner’s district — she said she changed the district number on some petitions. Gardner contended that was a criminal offense that invalidated the nominating petitions.

The lawmaker said in an interview that he sued Tucker as “a matter of principle.”

State District Judge Charles Currier in an April 13 ruling invalidated some signatures that had been obtained when the petitions were labeled “District 59,” but he said signatures obtained after Tucker said she altered the district number were valid.

Currier also said Tucker’s changes were “done as a result of ignorance” rather than done with an intent to deceive.

“I think it raises some serious questions in New Mexico if you can use (ignorance) as an excuse for violating the law,” Gardner said after the high court’s ruling Wednesday.

Gardner’s lawyer, Mickey Barnett, argued that it was illogical for New Mexico to make it a crime to alter election documents but not penalize candidates who do so by removing them from the ballot.

Unless there are consequences, candidates would be encouraged to circulate petitions for more than one office, and then make a last-minute decision about which one to file, he contended.

The court’s ruling to uphold Currier’s decision was unanimous.

“Wow,” Tucker said after the ruling. “The justice system works.”