Calling the 2012 general election in Sandoval County “a debacle,” a federal judge has ruled in favor of three Republicans who claimed actions by the Democratic county clerk and elections director deprived voters of the chance to cast ballots. There were problems administering the election in Rio Rancho, which resulted in voters standing in long lines and waiting in some instances for more than five hours to exercise their right to vote, according to the order by District Judge William P. Johnson. Johnson had granted a preliminary injunction ordering Election Bureau Director Eddie Gutierrez and Sandoval County Clerk Eileen Garbagni to comply with a resolution passed by the County Commission in October 2013 pertaining to the number of voting machines and distribution of polling places in Rio Rancho. The resolution establishes 17 voting convenience centers in Rio Rancho and two in Corrales.
Attorney Pat Rogers filed the case in U.S. District Court in March 2013, claiming that arrangements made by Gutierrez and then-County Clerk Sally Padilla providing only five voting locations in Rio Rancho resulted in long waits in the Republican-leaning city. It claimed their actions effectively deprived voters of their constitutional right to vote, leading to Republican losses to Democrats.
The judge’s order states that the county “no longer has discretion to change the location or amount of polling centers without an order approving such change by a state district judge.”
The court’s ruling “is a victory for Rio Rancho residents and sends the Sandoval County clerk the critical message that the mistakes of 2012 must never be repeated,” said Justine Fox-Young, an attorney for the plaintiffs, in an email.