- Associated Press - Monday, July 7, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A Public Education Commission member is asking a federal court to invalidate New Mexico’s requirements for independent candidates to secure a place on the ballot.

Tyson Parker of Corrales brought a lawsuit in federal district court last week, contending state election laws discriminate against candidates unaffiliated with a political party by requiring them to submit an unfairly high number of voter signatures on nominating petitions.

To get on the ballot, Parker needed nearly eight times more signatures than a Democratic candidate, almost five times more than a Republican and three times more than a minor party candidate.

For independents running for the commission, petition signatures must be equal to at least 3 percent of the total number of votes cast for governor in the district in the last general election. Minor party candidates only need 1 percent of that vote. Democrats and Republicans need signatures equal to 3 percent of the votes in the district for their party’s primary election gubernatorial candidates. However, far fewer voters typically cast ballots in a primary election than a general election.

Only Alabama and Montana impose similar or greater candidate petition requirements, according to the lawsuit.

Independents are the fastest-growing part of New Mexico’s electorate, and account for about 1 in 5 voters, according to the latest voter registration data.

“There are just too many out there who can make a real difference but are being discouraged from participating in the political process,” Parker said Monday.

Gov. Susana Martinez appointed Parker last year to fill a vacancy on the 10-member commission, which can approve the creation of charter schools.

Parker, an architect who has been a registered independent voter since 1999, didn’t qualify as a candidate for the November general election because he submitted 1,379 petition signatures, which was short of the 2,196 required by law.

The lawsuit contends the filing requirement is unconstitutional, and Parker asked the court to place him on the ballot.

The state’s petition requirements “create a tremendous barrier to ballot access and have the effect of discouraging independent candidates from making the effort to gain ballot access,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit was brought Thursday against Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who administers state election laws.

A Duran spokesman, Ken Ortiz, did not immediately return email and telephone messages on Monday seeking comment on the lawsuit.

Democrat Karyl Ann Ambruster of Los Alamos is running for the District 4 commission seat held by Parker.

According to the lawsuit, Parker, family members and friends spent about 200 hours trying to gather the required petition signatures.


Follow Barry Massey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bmasseyAP

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