A candidate from California will be on the ballot twice in November. What if he wins both races?

(Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

A candidate from California will be on the ballot twice in November. What if he wins both races?

California Politics, 2024 Elections

Laura J. Nelson

April 10, 2024

In an election year sparked by the sudden retirement of former House Speaker and Central Valley Representative Kevin McCarthy, a California appeals court ruled Tuesday that Republican Vince Fong of Bakersfield can legally appear on the November ballot in two different races.

Fong filed to run for re-election to the State Assembly, where he represents the Bakersfield region, and then, after McCarthy announced his retirement, filed the paperwork to run for the newly vacant seat in Congress . Secretary of State Shirley Weber, a Democrat, tried to keep Fong out of the congressional primary, saying state election law prohibited candidates from running for two offices at once.

A Sacramento County judge ruled in December that Fong could run for office in the 20th Congressional District, which includes parts of Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties. The 3rd District Court agreed Tuesday, writing that Weber’s argument did not apply to Fong.

“If the Legislature wishes to prohibit candidates from running for more than one office in the same election, it is free to do so,” Judge Laurie Earl wrote in her ruling. Until then, she wrote, the court must uphold the election law as it is written.

The decision is a victory for Fong, McCarthy’s hand-picked successor who began his political career in the congressman’s district office in Bakersfield. McCarthy helped get Fong an endorsement from former President Trump and funneled $500,000 from his Majority Committee political action committee to a pro-Fong group.

Fong came in first for the congressional seat during the March 5 primary.

The appeals court’s decision will end “the unnecessary and ill-advised campaign in Sacramento to deprive voters of a real choice in this election,” Fong said in a statement released after the ruling was announced. “I am grateful that our justice system has upheld the integrity of our elections.”

Weber said in a statement that both courts recognized that the decision “opens the door to chaos, gamesmanship and disenfranchisement, and disadvantages other candidates.” She said her office is “carefully considering all of our options.”

The court’s ruling will lead to a strange vote in November and an even stranger possible outcome in the San Joaquin Valley. Fong will be listed as the sole candidate for the 32nd Assembly District and one of two candidates for the 20th Congressional District in the House of Representatives.

Fong is endorsing Ken Weir, Bakersfield City Council member and chairman of the Kern County Republican Party, who is running a write-in campaign for the Assembly seat.

“We hope he wins,” said Fong spokesman Ryan Gardiner. But if Fong is elected to both offices, he would resign from the Assembly and head to DC. Election officials would hold a special election to fill the Assembly vacancy in 2025, Gardiner said.

Fong could also be in Congress as early as November. He will run in a special election next month against Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux to fill out the remainder of McCarthy’s term, which expires in January 2025. A representative for Boudreaux’s campaign declined to comment.

The legal challenge over Fong’s candidacy was based on a section of California election law that states: “No person shall file nomination papers for a party nomination and an independent nomination for the same office, or for more than one office in the same election.”

Fong’s campaign argued that the provision has been void since 2010, when California voters approved a new state primary system. The change saw the scrapping of party nominations in favor of the so-called ‘jungle primary’, in which the top two voters move into second place. the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

The state argued that the “or” in the clause split the law into two commissions: a commission that governed nominations, and a commission that barred candidates from running for more than one office.

“The ‘or’ is the key word there, and therefore they are two separate provisions,” said Deputy Atty. Gen. Seth Goldstein said this during oral arguments at the appeals court last week. The Legislature “could have made the statute clearer,” he said, but in the absence of that clarity, the court should turn to the state’s top election official.

That’s “very persuasive in terms of legislative intent,” but less persuasive when it comes to parsing the actual wording of the law, said Jessica Levinson, an election law professor at Loyola Law School.

“What the judge is saying here is, I may know what the statute was intended to do, but I’m bound by the language,” Levinson said.

Weber’s office also said that the Fong campaign’s interpretation of the law would allow candidates to run for an unlimited number of offices during the same election, view the results and choose the office they want the most of these be won, and to resign from the rest. Earl wrote in her opinion.

Two members of the National Assembly have introduced bills to resolve the confusion.

A bill from Assemblywoman Gail Pellerin (D-Santa Cruz) would ban candidates from filing paperwork for two elections. A bill from Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) would allow candidates to file for a second seat if an incumbent declined to run, but would force them to withdraw from their other candidacy.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Hot Topics

Related Articles