Representative Matt Gaetz, the far-right Republican who easily won his primary on Tuesday in Florida’s First Congressional District, will face a Democratic challenger in November who made national headlines early in the coronavirus pandemic.
Rebekah D. Jones, a former data manager for the Florida Department of Health, defeated Peggy Schiller in the Democratic primary, according to The Associated Press, after a confusing legal back-and-forth over whether Ms. Jones was eligible to appear on the ballot.
Just a day before the primary, a Florida appeals court ruled that Ms. Jones could remain on the ballot. That reversed the decision of a lower court judge who had said that she was ineligible because state law requires a candidate running in a partisan primary to sign an oath declaring membership in that party for at least the previous year.
During a daylong trial this month, lawyers for Ms. Schiller had showed that Ms. Jones switched her party registration from Democrat to unaffiliated for two months in 2021, while she was briefly living in Maryland after clashing with the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida over coronavirus statistics.
That clash put a spotlight on Ms. Jones in 2020, when she claimed that she had been fired from her government job for refusing to suppress virus data from the public. In what became a monthslong saga, Ms. Jones filed a whistle-blower complaint, turned into a vocal critic of Mr. DeSantis and was eventually criminally charged with accessing a state computer and downloading a file without authorization.
The criminal case against Ms. Jones is pending. In May, an inspector general for the Department of Health found that three allegations that Ms. Jones had made against several health officials were “unsubstantiated.”
Ms. Jones returned to Florida from Maryland in July last year. She filed to run for Congress against Mr. Gaetz in his heavily Republican district in the Panhandle.
A three-judge panel from the state First District Court of Appeal ruled on Monday that the candidate oath signed by Ms. Jones could not be enforced because the law “provides no express authority to disqualify a party candidate if she was not in fact a registered party member during the 365-day window.”
In the ruling, Judge Rachel E. Nordby, who was appointed by Mr. DeSantis, acknowledged that the decision “could invite bad actors to qualify for the ballot using false party affiliation statements to inject chaos into a party’s primary.”
The ruling allowed any votes cast for Ms. Jones to count, and preliminary results showed she defeated Ms. Schiller.