By Associated Press - Monday, April 21, 2014

GALLUP, N.M. (AP) - Democratic Rep. Sandra Jeff of Crownpoint, a maverick lawmaker who has sided with Republican Gov. Susana Martinez on several high-profile legislative votes, was removed from the June 3 primary election ballot on Monday by a judge who determined she had failed to qualify as a candidate.

District Judge Louis DePauli ruled that Jeff didn’t have enough valid signatures on her nominating petitions. She has submitted 91 signatures to the secretary of state’s office, but the judge determined after a two-day hearing that only 68 were valid - leaving her 10 short of what was needed to secure a spot on the ballot.

Two other Democrats are running in House District 5, which covers portions of McKinley and San Juan counties in northwestern New Mexico.

Jeff’s lawyer, Germaine Chappelle, didn’t immediately return telephone messages seeking comment on whether she would appeal the ruling.

The judge ruled in favor of an election challenge by McKinley County voter Larry King, who brought the lawsuit with the assistance of Conservation Voters New Mexico. The group contends Jeff has a poor environmental voting record.

“Holding elected officials accountable for their actions is a cornerstone of our work,” Demis Foster, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “Today’s ruling provides the district with an opportunity to choose a representative who will fight for the health of their communities.”

Jeff, who has served in the House since 2009, has supported Martinez-backed legislation seeking to stop New Mexico from issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants living illegally in the country.

Jeff, a member of the Navajo Nation, is among five Native Americans serving in the 70-member House. She has become a swing vote in some instances because Democrats hold a narrow majority.

Jeff was the lone Democrat to join with Republicans in blocking a $6.2 billion budget proposal earlier this year. It failed on a tie vote. However, she later supported a compromise budget measure, which was signed into law.

The judge determined that some of the signatures submitted by Jeff were of people who didn’t live in her legislative district, were duplicates or weren’t Democrats. Under state law, voters can’t sign the petitions of more than one candidate for the same office.

DePauli previously had dismissed King’s election challenge because he decided Jeff didn’t receive proper legal notice of the lawsuit. But the Supreme Court last week ordered the case back to the district court to determine whether Jeff had enough valid nominating signatures. The high court has temporarily blocked the secretary of state from mailing out ballots to any overseas voters from the district until the election challenge is resolved.

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