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Congressional candidate fights election law

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By Carol A. Clark

With speculation mounting that a new ballot access law will prevent full and fair elections in November, Democratic congressional candidate Don Wiviott is speaking out against it. Thursday, the Santa Fe homebuilder called on the entire field of Democratic candidates to join him in fighting for a more open political process this primary season.House Bill 1156, signed into law last year, limits the number of candidates political parties may place on their primary ballots. Under the new law, candidates must receive at least 20 percent of the delegates during pre-primary conventions in order to be placed on the ballot.Under prior law, candidates were able to obtain access to the ballot by submitting additional nominating petitions from registered voters.Wiviott expressed concern that the new 20-percent threshold may have unintended consequences for the Democratic Party this fall. In races like the 3rd Congressional District where multiple candidates have announced their intention to run, a 20-percent threshold may be impossible for anyone to meet.With so many candidates in the race, Wiviott said Democrats face the very real possibility that the delegate vote will be split so many ways that no candidate can receive 20 percent. Should that happen, the law has no provisions for review or appeal. Democrats would simply be left without a candidate on the primary and general election ballots in November, he said. “Without serious revisions in the law, we might see a scenario where Congressman Udall’s seat is simply handed to Republicans in November,” Wiviott said during a telephone interview Thursday. “We need a member of Congress who will fight for affordable health care and to end the war in Iraq, but under that scenario, New Mexico would lose its progressive voice in Washington.”He continued, “Instead of giving primary voters the opportunity to hear and select from the full chorus of voices in the Democratic party, it seeks to limit access to the ballot to a well-connected few ... We shouldn’t seek to restrict debate or cut some out of the process.” Wiviott calls the new provision a civil rights issue in which minorities, especially Native Americans, will find it tougher to get on the ballot throughout New Mexico under this new system. “That’s unacceptable,” he said. “New Mexico is about fostering diversity and this new ballot system will limit diversity and make it harder for some minorities to get on the ballot. That doesn’t reflect our values.”In meeting with the Democrats who will decide who gets on the ballot under this new system, Wiviott said he has been getting positive reactions and expects to get on the ballot if this lawsuit fails. “But I got involved in this race to promote certain ideals, such as diversity and civil rights,” he said. “I’m filing this lawsuit because this new voting system fails those ideals. I believe this is about fairness. It should be about inclusion, rather than exclusion.”Wiviott said he has filed suit in the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe to challenge HB 1156 and the restrictions it places on ballot access and on voter choice. “If there is one thing all Democratic candidates can agree on, it is that the Democratic primary should be open and fair,” Wiviott said. “Anyone who wants to participate should be able to compete.” Wiviott has retained an attorney to oversee the suit and said he is awaiting word from other candidates about whether or not they will join his effort.