SANTA FE — It was like the start of a football game, with state District Court Judge Francis J. Mathew handling the coin toss. But this also was sudden death, deciding a heated election contest.
In front of about 30 people and news cameras, Mathew settled the disputed District 2 Española City Council race on Thursday morning with a best two out of three tosses of candidate Phillip Chacón’s quarter. Chacon’s opponent Michelle Martinez won the tiebreaker.
A recount of the March 4 election tally, requested by Martinez, resulted in 167 votes for each candidate. Chacón had won by two votes before the recount and, citing what he believes were irregularities, maintains he should have had a much bigger margin.
In Mathews’ Santa Fe courtroom, after at first not being able to choose between a literal roll of the dice, cutting a deck of cards or the coin, the candidates opted for the quarter. Chacón was adamant about having heads because of his faith in the motto, “In God We Trust.”
“It is tails,” Mathew announced with the first flip. The next toss was heads. The candidates’ eyes followed the path of the quarter on the last flip. Matthew shook hands with both candidates after announcing it was tails.
New Mexico law calls for settling election ties with a game of chance. After the hearing, the winning Martinez said, “I am very grateful to God.”
Chacón has insisted, and did so again in court Thursday, that there were shenanigans in the Española election. He tried to argue about that with Mathew to no avail. The judge said the sole purpose of the hearing was to decide a winner so the election results could be certified.
Any allegations about vote counting or alleged fraud can brought before District Court within 30 days, if Chacón wants to contest the election, Mathew said. Chacón wasn’t happy but said would contest it.
“I’ve got solid evidence of fraud and my question is why Dianna Duran (Secretary of State) and Gary King (Attorney General) are not doing their job,” he said after the hearing. “My city is trembling, my municipality is trembling.”
Incumbent Elaine Herrera finished third in the race. There has been confusion over the District 2 results in part because a fourth candidate, Wray Ortiz, was disqualified after absentee and early voting started. Two machines still accepted votes for Ortiz. Chacón claims 11 votes are missing.
Chacón read a statement maintaining he should have won by a 35 vote margin, before Mathew cut him off. Chacón also asked that the judge excuse himself from the case and postpone Thursday’s hearing, saying he was rushed by City Attorney Frank Coppler. “I don’t believe you have the ability to disqualify me for performing a ministerial act … under the election code,” Mathew said.
Days after the election, Chacón was charged with child abuse after his 13-year-old alleged that Chacón punched and grabbed him by the neck in a dispute over potato chips. Chacón denied the allegations.
Also Thursday, the president of the Espanola city employees union filed a complaint with the city manager saying Chacon had created a “hostile work environment” during his brief time as a councilor since election day.
Joaquin Maestas also wrote that Chacon had “invited himself into areas where unauthorized personnel are not allowed.”
In his letter to interim City Manager Joe Duran, Chacon wanted to know why Maestas was in court for the tiebreaker and hugging Martinez. He also alleged that during the recount, Maestas told Martinez “not to worry.”
n a two out of three coin flip in state District Court this morning, Michelle Martinez won a tie-breaker to be elected to a Espanola City Council seat over Phillip Chacon Sr.
The two had tied in a recount of votes in the March 4th disputed election with 167 votes each, prompting today’s tie-breaker presided over by District Judge Francis J. Mathew. With Mathew doing the flipping and Chacon choosing heads, the first flip was tails for Martinez. The second was heads for Chacon and Martinez prevailed when the third toss landed tails.
The coin toss was simply to get the election settled and certified and not to decide any questions of voter fraud or illegality, the judge told Chacon, who continually wanted to argue the merits of the voter recount.
The dispute in part arises from a third candidate who was disqualified from the District 2 council race when it was determined he did not live in the district. Voting machines had to be reprogrammed as a result.
Chacon has 30 days to file a protest in District Court from the time Martinez is sworn in which is expected to happen in Espanola today. He said he would contest the election result. “I’m not happy with this,” Chacon said after the hearing. “I have solid evidence that this will be overturned.” Chacon, who represented himself in court, tried to excuse judge Mathew from the case but Mathew refused.
“When I filed for the recount I was confident in myself,” said Martinez. Martinez said she was thinking “what was meant to be was going to happen” before the third and final coin flip.
“We did what the court told us,” said Espanola City Clerk Tessa Jo Mascarenas, after the hearing. She doesn’t anticipate any future difficulties on appeals. “I don’t think there will be a problem.” She said this has never happened before in an Espanola election.