And then there were seven.
Mayoral candidate Michael Reed Ellis pulled out of the race Monday, citing a weekend story in The SCORE about a possible technical violation of city and state campaign law as the primary reason.
“It was not my intent to disregard or ignore this important date,” Ellis said in an e-mail statement and subsequent telephone interview. “Due to a unforeseen delay, I did not arrive in Rio Rancho in time to verify my certification or as I had hoped, be present for the drawing of ballot order.
“I talked to (city clerk) Roman (Montoya) and it is a violation of the law, so today I have withdrawn my name as a candidate for mayor. I was excited to offer myself as a voice and public servant for my neighbors and friends in Rio Rancho because I would listen to their concerns, but I hold myself to the same standards as I would those I would cast my vote for. It is not the kind of thing you want to do when you are asking other people for their votes. That’s why I have taken the action that I have.
“There will be other races,” he said. “Don’t count me out.”
As part of their declaration of candidacy, all 18 candidates for city office signed a form providing among other things their name, address and phone number as required by subsection D of New Mexico Statute 3-8-27. The statute also has other requirements, including that candidates or their designated representative appear two days after filing day to personally verify their candidacy has been certified by the city clerk.
On the specific declaration of candidacy for the March 4 election is a statement where candidates “affirm that I, or my representative, shall personally appear at the office of the City Clerk during normal business hours on January 10, 2008 to ascertain whether the City Clerk has certified my Declaration of Candidacy as valid.”
Ellis, incumbent Howard Balmer and challenger Todd Hathorne did not appear in person or have a representative appear at City Hall on Jan. 10 as the statement requires.
However, nowhere it the statute is stated a penalty if the candidate fails to appear. The law also doesn’t compel the clerk’s office to report to any legal entity that a candidate did not appear.
Balmer, who is in his fourth city election, and Hathorne, in his second, said they have never appeared two days after filing in their previous election experiences.
The document also requires candidates to “affirm that this Declaration of Candidacy is an affidavit under oath and that any false statement knowingly made herein constitutes a fourth-degree felony under the laws of New Mexico.” Signatures on the document are from the candidate, a notary republic and the city clerk.
The key word in this case seems to be “knowingly,” as trying to prove a candidate’s intent would likely be difficult. The basic penalty for a fourth degree felony, as prescribed by Chapter 31-18-15, Subsection A (10) of state law, is 18 months imprisonment.
No one interviewed for the initial story, including Montoya, Mayor Mike Williams, Assistant City Attorney Margo Steadman or Department of Public Safety Greg Connors – and other candidates – said they had ever heard of a penalty being levied for failing to appear. Both Balmer, who is running in his fourth municipal election, and
State law specifically requires:
- Candidates file 56 days before the election.
- The clerk certify the Declaration of Candidacy 55 days before the election.
- The clerk post a list of approved candidates and, if necessary, a list of candidates who are turned down and the reasons why. The list(s) are required to be posted 54 days prior to the election and by 9 a.m. of that day. Candidates/designees are then required to verify their status after the 9 a.m. posting during the hours of normal business
Having certified a candidate, there is nothing in the law that allows a city clerk to decertify a candidate who does not appear on the 54th day.
Ellis, who manages a Payday Loans, was making his first attempt at public office.
Seven candidates remain in the race. Hiere is the list, in ballot position order:
1. Timothy C. Crum, former U.S. Navy veteran
2. Stephen W. Meyer, call center manager
3. Thomas E. Swisstack, state Rep., House District 50
4. Bill White, retired U.S. Air Force veteran
5. John R. McKinney, private businesman
6. Kim Rytter, consultant
7. Jim Owen, former Mayor
Ellis had drawn the No. 7 ballot position, but becaue his withdrawl came before the state-mandidated certification, Owen moves up one spot , Montoya said.
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