- Associated Press - Monday, March 26, 2018

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Lawsuits have been filed that seek to disqualify at least three Republican candidates and two Democrats from running for the New Mexico House of Representatives, according to court documents released Monday.

The lawsuits in state district courts could eliminate competition in three House races between Republicans and Democrats, as well as two primaries in Democrat-dominated districts.

Democrats hold a 38-seat majority in the 70-member House, and they aim to control both legislative chambers as well as the governor’s office. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez can’t run for re-election after two consecutive terms.

Elections for the Democrat-controlled Senate take place next in 2020.

The suits describe alleged failures to meet requirements for collecting signatures, and could sideline incumbent Republican Reps. Kelly Fajardo of Belen and Sharon Clahchischilliage of Shiprock, along with Republican challenger Bev Courtney of Las Cruces. Courtney hopes to unseat Rep. Joanne Ferrary in the November general election.

Democratic Rep. Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo filed a court challenge of signatures filed by Democratic primary rival Phillip Salazar of Dulce, in a race with no general-election competition from other parties. Democrat Kevin Mitchell of Tohatchi is in another decisive Democratic primary against Rep. Doreen Johnson.

State Republican Party Chairman Ryan Cangiolosi on Monday said the complaints against Fajardo and Clahchischilliage hinge on minor technicalities and accused Democrats of underhanded legal moves that could effectively disenfranchise voters.

Fajardo’s last name was misspelled with a missing letter at the top of several of her signature petition forms, and a middle initial was added by hand to Clahchischilliage’s name after her signature forms were printed.

“The Democratic Party of New Mexico recognizes it can’t win a fair fight, so it’s resorted to filing frivolous lawsuits to try to win,” said Cangiolosi, linking lawsuits filed by individual registered voters to the Democratic Party.

State Democratic Party spokeswoman Felicia Salazar said in a statement that the party was not behind the challenges against Republican House candidates.

“We believe New Mexicans deserve lawmakers who can file their paperwork correctly,” Salazar said. “Everyone should play by the same rules.”

Cangiolosi acknowledged that the Republican Party routinely vets opposition candidate registration forms to ensure signatures originate from qualified partisan supporters.

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