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Dana wins close race for District 1 seat

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Republican Dara Dana has won her bid for the District 1 seat on the Chaves County Board of Commissioners.

Although the results will not be certified officially until Thursday morning, Dana’s 32-vote lead has remained after all votes have been counted.

Provisional and previously uncounted ballots were unsealed and tallied Friday afternoon in front of the county Canvassing Board, which consists of the Chaves County Commissioners. Four of the five commissioners were present for the meeting at the Chaves County Administrative Center.

Following the Friday count, Dana and Democratic opponent Michael Trujillo each gained four votes, with a final total of 1,280 for Dana and 1,248 for Trujillo.

Trujillo congratulated Dana on her win, with both saying that they will continue to communicate with each other about residents’ needs in the years ahead. She and other newly elected officials will be sworn into office in January. Dana will succeed James Duffey, who could not run again as he is finishing up his second term in office.

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She will be the only woman on the 2019 commission. The only other seat up for election this year, District 5, will continue to be held by Republican Will Cavin, who ran unopposed in the primaries and the general elections.

Dana, a Dexter resident who previously served two terms in the New Mexico House of Representatives, said Trujillo was “gracious and cordial” in his remarks to her. She added that she will strive to serve all people in her district.

“What happens is, you include everybody no matter who wins or loses. You include everybody with everything you do. That is what a servant of the people is supposed to do,” she said.

She said that her first job as a commissioner will be to “listen and learn from my colleagues and just go from there and see what issues come up from the county.”

She added that the budget is also a priority. “We need to make sure that we live within our means because every budget, everyone, is having to live within their means,” she said.

Trujillo, the owner of El Charro Mexican Foods, a combat veteran and a former District 1 commissioner from 2003 to 2011, expressed goodwill toward Dana.

“She ran a good race and I think she will do a good job,” he said.

He said he will focus on his business and will remain active with the Democratic Party of Chaves County. But, he said, he has no future plans at this time to run for office.

“It is hard to get elected in Chaves County,” he said. “We did all we could to get elected, and right now she is going to represent all of us. As my campaign manager noted, it is about a 50-50 split, so she has to represent all of us.”

Which person had won the race was not certain on election night because a number of provisional votes and a few questionable ballots remained uncounted. Neither candidate was willing at that time to declare himself or herself the victor.

At the Canvassing Board meeting, Chaves County Clerk Dave Kunko said 71 provisional or uncounted ballots existed after Election Day. But County Clerk’s Office staff later determined that 25 did not qualify for counting.

Of the 25 provisional ballots filled out during Election Day that did not qualify, Kunko said that 17 were not registered to vote, four were registered to vote in different counties, two had already voted during the early voting period, one had already turned in an absentee ballot and one had registered by mail but did not present identification as required.

That left 46 ballots that might be eligible for counting. Of those, five were absentee ballots from first-time voters who registered by mail. Those five were required by law to submit identification along with ballot, Kunko explained. Upon opening those ballots in front of the commissioners, only one was found to have returned the ballot with identification and therefore to qualify for counting.

The remaining 41 provisional ballots filled out on Election Day involved such situations as people who incorrectly filled out absentee ballots or who said they had never received their absentee ballots. There were also some irregularities, including one woman who swore that whoever voted under her name during the early voting period was not her, with election staff agreeing that the signature did not appear to match her registration card. In another instance, a person voted during early voting but then the actual registered voter with that same name showed up on Election Day to vote.

The results of the additional 42 qualified ballots are expected to be added to the New Mexico Secretary of State website by Monday. The Canvassing Board meeting was adjourned Friday to give county staff time to finalize the tallies. The board is scheduled to reconvene at the start of the regularly scheduled Chaves County Board of Commissioners meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Chaves County Administrative Center.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.