Judge David Thomson said he was bound to follow the plain language of a state law that bars any alterations to the header on a petition page.
The case hinged on changes made to some of Peña’s petitions – on which campaign volunteers had trouble printing the letter “ñ” on the document used for signature-gathering.
In some cases, they wrote the letter in by hand and scratched out a character that had been printed incorrectly in its place.
State election officials flagged other problems as well – including one header that was partly obscured by unrelated text and one in which an address didn’t match.
Invalidating those pages left Peña without the 623 signatures required to make the ballot, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Peña, a Las Cruces resident who works in land conservation, now has five days to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
If Monday’s ruling stands, it will leave just two Democrats seeking the party’s nomination to succeed U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, a Hobbs Republican.
Remaining in the race are Democrats Mad Hildebrandt, an adjunct college instructor from Socorro, and Xochitl Torres Small, a water attorney from Las Cruces.
The race is wide open because Pearce is running for governor rather than seeking re-election to Congress.
Five Republicans are running: state Rep. Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo; Monty Newman, a former Hobbs mayor and former state GOP chairman; Gavin Clarkson, a Las Cruces professor who served in the Trump administration; former Eddy County Commissioner Jack Volpato of Carlsbad; and Lovington resident Clayburn Griffin, who works in digital marketing.
Judge Thomson seemed genuinely torn. The state Supreme Court, he said, has generally ruled in favor of protecting voters’ right to support the nomination of their favored candidate, except in cases of bad faith or similar circumstances.
But he also noted the plain language of the law – that a nominating petition shall be invalid “if any of the required information is altered.”
In a separate ruling Monday, Thomson rejected a challenge that sought to boot Republican Arthur Castillo off the ballot in the race for state treasurer.
The ruling clears the way for Castillo to remain in a two-person race against Democrat Tim Eichenberg, the incumbent state treasurer.