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Coin toss decides council seat

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First District Judge Francis Mathew flips a quarter to decide a tie between Phillip Chacón and Michelle Martinez in the March 4 election for a seat on the Española City Council. Martinez won two out of three coin flips in Mathew’s Santa Fe courtroom. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

First District Judge Francis Mathew flips a quarter to decide a tie between Phillip Chacón and Michelle Martinez in the March 4 election for a seat on the Española City Council. Martinez won two out of three coin flips in Mathew’s Santa Fe courtroom. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

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 three tosses of candidate Phillip Chacón’s quarter. Chacón’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 Mathew’s 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 toss, 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. Mathew 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, 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 be brought before District Court within 30 days, if Chacón still wants to contest the election, Mathew said. Chacón wasn’t happy but said he would contest it.

“I’ve got solid evidence of fraud and my question is why (Secretary of State) Dianna Duran and (Attorney General) Gary King 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.

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