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New Mexico Legislature Should Fix the Brittney Loophole

For the second time in 17 months, Art De la Cruz has been appointed to the New Mexico House of Representatives.

De la Cruz fills the District 12 seat recently vacated by first-term Rep. Brittney Barreras, who abruptly resigned last week.

Barreras was once heralded as New Mexico’s first Independent (and “first openly lesbian”) legislator. But how she got to the Roundhouse— and how De la Cruz got there twice — is a twisted tale of candidate incompetence and government bureaucracy.

The problem started in March 2020, when two-term incumbent Democrat Patricio Ruiloba was removed from the June primary ballot for failing to write his district number on the qualifying signature petitions. 

Knowing his odds as a write-in candidate, Ruiloba resigned from his seat in August 2020. In September, De la Cruz was appointed by the Bernalillo County Commission to finish out Ruiloba’s term. As an appointee who did not have the opportunity to register in the primary as a member of the Democrat Party, De la Cruz was forced to run two months later as a write-in candidate, meaning his name was not printed on the ballot.

De la Cruz secured only 26.2% of the 5,665 votes cast in the general election that November. Barreras won with 73.8% of the vote as the only candidate listed on the ballot: as an Independent.

But Barreras isn’t an Independent, and never was. When she registered to vote, she didn’t select a party, which the state automatically registers as a DTS (declined to state; aka Independent). Soon after winning the race, Barreras corrected the error, re-registering as a Democrat

A year after taking office, she resigned, citing “pressure” in her role as a legislator and “stress, anxiety, and negativity” from the COVID pandemic.

On Wednesday, the Bernalillo County Commission re-appointed De la Cruz to the seat he held for four months in 2020.

For the simple fact that “Independent” is politically ambiguous and the South Valley district is heavily Democratic, De la Cruz very likely would have beat Barreras had his name been on the ballot. Regardless of qualifications, he would have been the only Democrat. 

It’s ironic that the two-term incumbent (Ruiloba) was removed from the ballot due to a typographical error while Barreras qualified without even knowing how to properly register to vote, then won on a technicality that handicaps the appointee due to no fault of his own. 

De la Cruz lost to Barreras because of bureaucracy, not merit. 

Legislators could close this loophole with an amendment to the statute that allows automatic ballot qualifications for candidates who are appointed after a primary election. The other option, if technicalities and typographical errors are enough to bar a candidate from getting on the ballot, is to add language to the law that prohibits people from running for office who don’t know how to properly register to vote. If Patricio Ruiloba can be disqualified for not writing a number on his signature forms, it’s only fair that candidates who can’t figure out how to register should be disqualified as well.

If you can’t do the little things correctly, you’re not cut out for the big things. Barreras proved this. The state legislature can fix it. 

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