Central Valley district will vote for a new member of Congress twice in two weeks

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 23: Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) walks through National Statuary Hall as he returns to his office from the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Then-Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) walks through the U.S. Capitol in May. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
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Voters in California's Central Valley will go to the polls twice in two weeks this spring to select a new representative in Congress, following the resignation of former Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield).

Voters will cast ballots on March 5 in the primary election for McCarthy's former seat in the 20th Congressional District, which spans Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties.

They will vote again on March 19 in a primary for a special election to fill out the remainder of McCarthy's term, a date set on Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

A candidate can be elected outright in the primary election by receiving more than 50% of the votes cast, a Newsom spokesman said. Otherwise, there will be a runoff election May 21.

The winner of the special election will serve in Congress until January 2025.

The special election decision comes after weeks of confusion over who is eligible to run to replace McCarthy. The Bakersfield native left Congress on Dec. 31, months after a humiliating vote by his own party to oust him as speaker of the House.

After McCarthy announced his retirement, state Assemblymember Vince Fong said he would run for reelection in the 32nd Assembly District in Bakersfield and filed paperwork for the state legislative race. Then Fong changed his mind and filed to run for McCarthy's seat in Congress, only to be barred from the ballot by California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, a Democrat, who said state law prohibits candidates from running for two offices in one election.

Fong sued Weber's office, arguing that the law that bars candidates from appearing on the ballot more than once has not been applicable sine 2010, when California voters scrapped the state's party nomination system and created a new system in which the top two vote getters advance to the general election regardless of their party affiliation.

In late December, a Sacramento County judge agreed with Fong's lawyers and ruled that he could appear on the ballot after all.

A spokesman for Weber said the state's elections office is working on an appeal, and "discussing other options for resolving this issue in the best interest of the voters."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.