Retired Old Town resident Stella Padilla has suffered a major setback in her quest to get her name on Albuquerque’s mayoral ballot, but she’s vowing to fight on.
State District Judge Nancy Franchini has granted the city’s motion to dismiss Padilla’s lawsuit, which alleged that City Clerk Natalie Howard and her staff had wrongfully thrown out legitimate voter signatures on Padilla’s nominating petition.
“It breaks my heart, Ms. Padilla. I would like to rule in your favor, but I can’t,” Franchini said during a hearing Friday.
Franchini’s decision wasn’t based on the substance of Padilla’s claim – that the City Clerk’s Office had erroneously thrown out legitimate signatures – but rather on the technical aspects of how the case was filed.
Assistant City Attorney Nick Bullock argued that Padilla lacked standing to file the lawsuit in the first place because under the Municipal Code, only voters whose signatures were thrown out could petition the court to reinstate the signatures. He told the court that Padilla erred by filing the case under the Declaratory Judgment Act.
Franchini agreed with his argument.
“This is an election, not a selection, which is what they’re trying to do,” Padilla told the Journal after the hearing. “This is not over yet by a long shot.”
A. Blair Dunn, Padilla’s attorney, said he would ask the state Supreme Court for an immediate review of the ruling.
Padilla was one of 16 candidates who filed to run for mayor. To qualify to get their names on the ballot, candidates were required to submit signatures from 3,000 registered city voters by April 28.
According to the City Clerk’s Office, nine candidates met that requirement. Padilla, however, was 171 valid signatures short of qualifying for the ballot, according to the city clerk’s website.
Licensed private investigator Carlos Villanueva submitted an affidavit to the court in support of Padilla’s claim that the City Clerk’s Office had wrongfully thrown out legitimate signatures on her nominating petition.
In that sworn statement, Villanueva says that Padilla’s team was able to validate more than 180 signatures that were thrown out by the City Clerk’s Office, which would give Padilla more than the required number to qualify as a mayoral candidate.
Bullock, in a written statement, said Howard and her office just followed the law.
“The city clerk works hard to ensure that the state and local election rules are not only followed but applied equally to all candidates,” he said. “Beginning in February, the City Clerk’s Office communicated with various campaigns about the status of their petitions and provided explanations for why some signatures could not be validated given the requirements of New Mexico’s election code. This fair, impartial and methodical work of the City Clerk’s Office ensures the integrity of the election process.”