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Libertarians fall short in recount

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Even after a recount, the Libertarian Party’s candidate for governor failed to win enough write-in votes last month to secure a spot on the Nov. 6 ballot, according to an unofficial tally released Thursday by election workers.

The State Canvassing Board will meet next week to consider certifying the results.

The low vote total, meanwhile, could also trigger a fight over the Libertarians’ future as a major party in New Mexico – because they won’t have a nominee for governor on the ballot this year if the recount results are confirmed.

State election officials say New Mexico law requires a major party’s presidential or gubernatorial candidate to receive at least 5 percent of the vote in the most recent general election.

But Libertarians say they need just 5 percent for any statewide office. Their slate of candidates this year covers a U.S. Senate seat, attorney general, land commissioner and secretary of state.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t look like they’ll have candidates in the race for governor and lieutenant governor.

Blair Dunn, the Libertarian candidate for attorney general, said the candidates are still weighing their options but probably won’t push on. The recount just didn’t produce as many extra votes as they’d expected, he said.

Libertarians sought the recount in eight counties this year after their write-in candidates for governor, Bob Walsh, and lieutenant governor, Robin Dunn, fell short of the 230-vote threshold required to make the Nov. 6 ballot.

They each received about 180 votes in the June 5 primary election.

Walsh’s number climbed to 186 votes in the recount, according to the unofficial tallies submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office, spokesman Joey Keefe said Thursday.

Under state law, write-in candidates must get a minimum number of votes in the primary to win their party’s nomination. In this case, Walsh needed at least 230 votes, or 2 percent of the Libertarians registered in New Mexico.

Blair Dunn said there were some “growing pains” this year – the first primary after the Libertarian Party won major party status with a strong showing in the 2016 presidential race. Some Libertarians were turned away at the polls, Dunn said, by election workers who didn’t realize they were allowed to vote in the primary.

In New Mexico, only voters from major parties can vote in the primary election.

“We do think there were some issues with voter suppression,” Dunn said.

Keefe, the spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, disputed that.

“Losing an election or not making the ballot doesn’t automatically mean voter suppression took place,” he said in a written statement. “For Mr. Dunn to suggest so without evidence is irresponsible and unnecessarily questions the integrity of our electoral process.”

The two remaining gubernatorial candidates are Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce – both members of Congress who are leaving their seats in the U.S. House to run for governor.

Major party status makes it easier for Libertarian candidates to appear on the ballot. Independent and minor party candidates have to collect more petition signatures to get their names on the ballot.

The Libertarians became a major party ahead of this year’s elections thanks to presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s vote totals in 2016.

Johnson, a former New Mexico governor, won 9 percent of the vote that year.

Dunn said Johnson’s strong showing should secure major party status through the 2020 election, the next time the presidency is on the ballot. But Libertarians also have plenty of statewide candidates who could clear the 5 percent threshold this year, he said.

The Secretary of State’s Office, headed by Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver, has a different interpretation.

To stay a major party, the Libertarians would have to get at least 5 percent of the vote every two years in either the race for president or governor, a spokesman said.

The state law defines a “major party” as a party “any of whose candidates received as many as five percent of the total number of votes cast at the last preceding general election for the office of governor or president of the United States, as the case may be,” among other requirements.

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