The question of whether the Democrat primary candidate in the race for Valencia County sheriff should remain on the June ballot is becoming a mire of court motions.

In March, Michael Candelaria, a Valencia County voter and the chairman of the Republican Party of Valencia County, filed a petition challenging the candidacy of Democrat Rodney Jones, the only candidate on the ballot for his party.

Candelaria, through his lawyer, Carter B. Harrison IV, argued Jones was not qualified to be on the ballot because he did not live in Valencia County.

Thirteenth Judicial District Court Judge James Lawrence Sanchez ruled Jones could remain on the ballot, which prompted Harrison to file an appeal with the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Jones’ attorney, Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, was ordered by the court to submit a response by April 19, which she did.

Rodney Jones
Democrat primary candidate for Valencia County sheriff

In her response, Sedillo Lopez argues there is no basis to remove Jones from the ballot, since he has been registered to vote at his “ancestral home” on Tribal Road 28, which is in Valencia County, since 1996 and has voted in the county regularly since then.

In his petition, Candelaria alleges Jones lives at a home on Quail Court, which is in Bernalillo County. Both addresses are on the Pueblo of Isleta, of which both Jones and Candelaria are enrolled members.

Sedillo Lopez argues removing someone from the ballot interferes with two fundamental rights protected by the New Mexico Constitution — the right to run for office and the voters’ right to choose their elected officials.

Jones and his family lived in a trailer on the property on Tribal Road 28 for 14 years, she explained in her response, and he has continually maintained the site, which has utilities, a rural mailbox on site where he receives mail and a recreational vehicle where he stays sometimes.

“He began clearing the property, removed the trailer and prepared the property to build his home in 2018, but the process was slowed down by the COVID-19 pandemic … he continues his work toward his goal of building his dream home and has a contractor,” the response reads.

Sedillo Lopez also notes Jones has spent his entire law enforcement career in Valencia County, working for the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office and Los Lunas Police Department, as well as having family and friends who live in the county and his children attended school in the county.

Election code requires the candidate’s voter registration record show party affiliation and residence within the district as of the date of the issuance of the election proclamation, Lopez Sedillo writes.

“The parties stipulated in open court he was a registered Democrat in Valencia County on the date of the election proclamation,” she wrote. “This is not a case where the candidate registered in a new jurisdiction with the purpose of running for office without moving there and thus creating a fraudulent registration …

“Mr. Jones has been registered in Valencia County for 26 years … in order to vote, an individual must register and submit proof of residency and identification … Running for office is governed by registration, which in turn, is based on residence.”

Because someone can only have one residence for purposes of voting and running for office, Sedillo Lopez notes the Legislature created a presumption resolving permanent residence in favor of the place shown on a persons voter registration, providing the person resides on the premises.

“Individuals do not lose their residence by temporarily leaving their home,” she wrote, citing state statute, which states a person doesn’t lose their residence if they leave their home … for temporary purposes only and with the intention of returning.

“Allowing him to remain on the ballot will give Mr. Jones the opportunity to make his case to the voters of Valencia County and will give voters a choice,” Jones’ attorney wrote.

The day after Sedillo Lopez filed her response, Harrison filed a motion to introduce two recent court decisions he argues are “directly on-point prior decisions” of the state supreme court.

The first case was in 2012, when Second Judicial District Court Judge Alan Malott disqualified a Republican candidate for state House District 16 because while the candidate was registered to vote at an address in the district, he did not live in the home because it was still under construction. The supreme court upheld the district court’s decision, according to Harrison’s filing.

In a 2018 case, Second Judicial District Court Judge Nancy Franchini disqualified a candidate for House District 21 because the candidate did not live at the home where she was registered to vote before the date of the election proclamation. The supreme court also affirmed the district court judge’s decision in that case.

Sedillo Lopez is arguing Harrison’s motion was “untimely and unfair” and she had no opportunity to address the points he raised in her response. She also argued the cases had no precedential value since the supreme court’s opinions on both cases were unpublished and should not be cited as authoritative in briefs to the court, and asked the motion be denied.

Barry Massey, the public information officer of the Administrative Office of the Courts, said Tuesday the case is not yet on the court’s calendar. He also said the court could request oral arguments by the attorneys or could consider the case based on the filings.

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.