Coin toss forces city councilor out of seat

Created: 03/27/2014 10:37 PM
By: Chris Ramirez, KOB Eyewitness News 4

A newly elected Espanola City Councilor is out of office and both bad luck and a questionable election process are to blame.

Phillip Chacon ran a hard fought campaign for Espanola City Council District-2, spending more than $10,000 on radio advertisements, newspaper inserts, and mobile billboards.

On Election Day, Chacon beat his challengers by a small margin.  In fact, Chacon only beat the second place challenger Michelle Martinez by two votes.

“I've never wanted anything more in my whole entire life,” Chacon said.

Soon after his victory, Chacon took his place at the dais during his first council meeting and immediately ruffled some feathers.  He accused a fellow councilor of breaking the law and called out the police chief for not living within Espanola’s city boundaries.

Soon after, the Espanola Police Department arrested Chacon on a child abuse charge.  And second placer Michelle Martinez demanded a recount of the vote.  On Election Night, there were 463 ballots counted, but on the night of the recount---Espanola officials could only find 452 ballots; 11 had disappeared.

Espanola City Clerk Tessa Mascarenas explained that some absentee ballots had been printed incorrectly and one machine read them with wrong information, causing confusion about the true winner.

By the math of Espanola city officials, Chacon and Martinez tied with 167 votes each.  In New Mexico, the winner of a tie race is left to chance.  In a Santa Fe courtroom Thursday, Chacon flipped a coin three times to decide the winner.  Chacon chose heads each time, but the coin landed on tails twice.  Chacon lost the game of chance and lost the city council seat he had only held for less than a month.

“My constitutional rights have been severely breached,” Chacon said.  “And my concern is--if my rights have been breached, who else's have been breached also?”

Soon after, Martinez was sworn into Chacon’s old office.  But even she can admit, something about this election process smelled fishy.

"During the recount, there was a bit of a discrepancy between the number of ballots and the number of voters who signed,” Martinez said.  “They gave us various explanations for those things."

Espanola’s election process has left both candidates with questions about what happened to those crucial 11 ballots?  And residents are wondering if their votes really did count.

Chacon has filed complaints with the Secretary of State and Attorney General asking for an investigation into Espanola’s questionable election process.

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