Editorial: Vince Fong is not the only candidate running for two offices at the same time

Astute voters in the San Fernando Valley may notice that Carmenlina Minasova appears twice on the March 5 primary ballot. The respiratory care professional is running for the Los Angeles City Council against incumbent Imelda Padilla, and for a vacant California Assembly seat representing District 43.

How is this legal? Because of a loophole in state law, one that Assemblyman Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield) exposed last year when he fought the secretary of state for the right to run simultaneously for re-election and for the congressional seat he recently vacated by former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Fong and Minasova are not the only candidates who have fallen twice this election season.

Whittier City Councilwoman Jessica Martinez is a candidate for Assembly District 56 in the March primary and is also running for re-election to the City Council in the April 9 Whittier municipal election. And there could be more. In the San Joaquin Valley, several candidates for public office, including two running against Fong in the 20th Congressional District, told a local media outlet that they are also considering running for Fong's Assembly seat on the ballot. on March 5.

Even if candidates run on different ballots, it's a problem when their search terms overlap. If a candidate won both races, he would have to choose one to accept, forcing another election to fill the other seat.

According to local election officials, double-dipping candidates are not breaking any laws. Los Angeles, for example, prohibits people from running for more than one municipal office at a time, but says nothing about running for municipal and state offices at the same time, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County recorder-recorder said.

Secretary of State Shirley Weber, however, disagrees. In refusing to allow Fong to run for the congressional seat, she cited the state Election Code, which says a person cannot run “for more than one office in the same election.” Fong filed suit and was backed by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne WL Chang, who said that language no longer applies since California changed the state's primary system, eliminating party nominations in favor of the top-two system in which the two main candidates regardless of party compete in the November runoff.

Weber's office is appealing the ruling, which Chang noted “somewhat defies common sense to find that the law allows a candidate to run for two offices during the same election.”

It defies common sense. Allowing people to run for multiple offices at once can confuse voters and undermine confidence in the electoral system. If a candidate wins in more than one race, the district would be unrepresented until a special election is held to fill the vacant seat. And special elections are expensive for taxpayers and tend to have very low voter turnoutwhich is not ideal for a healthy democracy.

This is not the first time someone has run for more than one seat at the same time, but it is rare and is usually used by fringe candidates who are unlikely to win any races. It has become an issue now because Fong has a good chance of winning both elections. He is running unopposed for re-election to the Assembly and is considered one of the favorites for the congressional seat.

No matter what happens with Fong's race or lawsuit, state lawmakers should clarify the law so that state and local candidates are explicitly prohibited from running for multiple offices at once.

Two bills seek to resolve this confusion for future elections. Assemblywoman Gail Pellerin (D-Santa Cruz), former county elections official, introduced Assembly Bill 1784which would prohibit a person from filing nomination papers for more than one office in the same election. Assembly Bill 1795 by Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) is similar, although it would allow a candidate to withdraw from a race to run for another office if the filing period for that office is extended because an incumbent is not running for re-election.

This should be easy for lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom. Allowing candidates to game the system to their advantage is unfair to voters and bad for democracy.

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