Editorial: Military members deserve clarity on NM election laws - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Military members deserve clarity on NM election laws

Article V of the state Constitution says a person must have “resided continuously in New Mexico for five years” prior to the election to be eligible to serve as governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, attorney general or commissioner of public lands.

But Article VII of the state Constitution says no one absent New Mexico while employed in the service of the United States or the state shall lose residency in New Mexico, no matter how long they’ve been gone. The state’s Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act takes it a step farther, stating New Mexicans overseas are still eligible to register at their last place of residence in New Mexico, even if their last address is no longer a recognized residential address.

The competing principles of the five-year “live-in-New Mexico” requirement to hold a state office and allowing military members to retain their residency status in New Mexico came to a head recently in a Democratic-backed lawsuit challenging Republican candidate Jeremy Gay’s eligibility to run for attorney general.

Democrats claimed Gay, a former judge advocate in the Marine Corps, moved to Gallup in 2019 — about a year and a half short of the constitutional requirement. According to the lawsuit, Gay was registered to vote in Florida through 2018 and was stationed in California when he left the Marine Corps in May 2019 and moved to Gallup.

However, state GOP chairman Steve Pearce says Gay has called New Mexico home since 2014. Gay’s campaign manager says Gay’s wife was born and raised in Gallup.

First Judicial District Court Judge T. Glenn Ellington ruled the lawsuit filed Sept. 7 was too late in the process since ballots for the Nov. 8 election have already been certified, and that removing Gay from ballots would disenfranchise GOP voters because a statutory deadline to fill ballot vacancies has passed. Gay’s attorneys noted he was chosen as the Republican nominee for attorney general at the GOP preprimary convention in February.

Even an attorney representing Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver testified in favor of dismissing the lawsuit, saying the deadline to remove candidates from the ballot was Aug. 30.

Still, details about Gay’s New Mexico residency remain in dispute.

State and federal laws show great deference to our military members when it comes to maintaining residency in their home states, as they should. It’s unfortunate the judge’s ruling didn’t specifically address Gay’s residency and clear up conflicting clauses in the state Constitution, and it is important to get some clarity. No New Mexican serving our nation’s armed forces overseas or out of state should be required to rent or buy a property here so they can also serve our state by running for office.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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