Inside the Capitol

Monday, July 28, 2008

8-1 Secretary of State Not Following Law

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- A curious situation down in Lincoln County apparently has elected officials throughout the state on edge.
It all started when former Capitan mayor and deputy sheriff Steve Sederwall decided to run for sheriff as an independent. He checked with both the county clerk's office and the secretary of state's office to be sure he was doing everything an independent candidate needed to do to get on the ballot.
Both offices told him all that was required was pay a $50 filing fee. He asked if he needed petition signatures and was told he didn't. A few days later, he received a state election candidate guide from the county clerk's office
On page 31, it said in full caps, underlined, with a box around it: "A candidate for county office is not required to file a nominating petition." And it cited Section 1-8-21B of the New Mexico Statutes.
That seemed abundantly clear. Sederwall didn't bother finding a copy of the statutes and reading the citation. I doubt any other candidate has either. You'll see why in a moment.
On filing day, Sederwall went to the county clerk's office to file for sheriff and the clerk was ready for him. She handed him a copy of a different law (Section 1-8-51e) stating "Nominating petitions for an independent candidate for a…county office shall be signed by a number of voters equal to at least three percent of the total number of votes cast … in that county…"
That equaled 201 signatures. Sederwall had two-and-a-half hours before the deadline. He rushed around town and got 130 signatures. Not enough.
Having been a lawman for 30 years, he smelled something not quite right, so he began researching the law. The advice he had received when he called the county clerk's office and the secretary of state's office was based on a reading of the state's 2008 election Candidate Guide, which he had followed.
In the introduction to the candidate guide is the caution: "Please note, this guide is intended merely as a handy reference, not as the ultimate authority on the election process."
It goes on to say the statutes are the ultimate authority. But who reads those? Candidates for office are interested in many things other than reading statute books.
As proof that no one reads the statutes, let me return to a statement I made earlier that no candidate had ever checked Section 1-8-21B. If they had, they would have read that Democrats and Republicans also are required to file nominating petitions.
The Candidate Guide is absolutely wrong.
Further investigation by Sederwall revealed that the guide has been wrong ever since the law was changed in 1996 to require petition signatures of all elective offices. Candidates for statewide offices and Congress submit petitions. No one else does.
The Lincoln County clerk was correct in not allowing Mr. Sederwall to file for sheriff. But she was wrong in allowing all other candidates to file without petition signatures. And so were every other county clerk and the secretary of state's office.
So Sederwall has gone to court asking to be put on the ballot, not as a matter of legality, but as a matter of equal treatment. Why should he be the only non-statewide candidate in the last seven elections in New Mexico to be denied ballot access?
Sederwall tells me no one has challenged the practice before and there is an effort to drag out the court case past the November election so any decision is moot.
No one seems to have caught on to the fact that now that the news is out, any action by any elected official can be ruled invalid because they are all unlawfully elected.
That means any action by a county commission, any arrest by a sheriff, any decision by a district judge can be appealed. The state Supreme Court had better fix this fast. I'm not sure what it can do, but it better try.
By the way, this is the same Steve Sederwall I went after a few years ago for trying to dig up Billy the Kid and his mother. I think he's right this time.
FRI, 8-01-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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