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Independent Voters Disenfranchised by California Primary Rules

Across the nation, voters have routinely been confused by overly complex and non-inclusive presidential primary rules. Unfortunately, the trend will continue this June in the Golden State.

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For non-presidential elections in California, the rules are simple. Every registered voter, regardless of party, can vote for any candidate of their choosing thanks to Proposition 14, the 2010 initiative that created the nonpartisan, top-two primary.

This is not true of presidential primaries.

Because the state has failed to conduct a voter education effort, there will be massive confusion in California, similar to the situations we witnessed in Arizona, New York, and elsewhere across the country. Half a million California voters who are mistakenly registered under the American Independent Party, for example, will not find out until election day that they can’t vote for any of the major party candidates.

The more than 850,000 new registered California voters (many of whom reject a party label), face a complicated set of rules that is likely to stifle participation this year.

Although California’s constitution calls for an “open presidential primary,” the secretary of state has allowed private political parties to choose whether or not they want non-members to participate in their taxpayer-funded primaries. As a result, most voters are likely to be confused about their voting options.

The Republican, Green, and Peace & Freedom parties have chosen to close “their” taxpayer-funded presidential primaries, and require voters to re-register with their party by May 23 in order to take part in their presidential nomination process.

The Democratic Party, the Libertarian Party, and the American Independent Party have chosen to allow “No Party Preference” (independent) voters into their private nomination process.

And the extent of the secretary of state’s voter education program to educate California’s fast-growing nonpartisan voters? A single postcard sent to the homes of nonpartisan absentee voters asking them if they wanted to vote in either the Democratic, Libertarian, or American Independent primaries.

1,894,661 voters will not have a say at all in the presidential contest unless they act quickly.

Of the 2,153,024 independent absentee voters who were mailed the postcard, 88% did not pick a party ballot. In other words, 1,894,661 voters will not have a say at all in the presidential contest unless they act quickly.

“It is so disappointing that millions of Californians will not be able to vote for the most important office in America – the presidency – simply because they chose to register as [an independent],” said Republican Assemblymember Kristin Olsen.

Olsen was one of the authors of a bipartisan resolution that requested Secretary of State Alex Padilla to use his authority as the state’s chief administrator of elections to add a non-binding, nonpartisan “public option” ballot for voters who either can’t or don’t want to vote in a party’s presidential primary.

According to Paul Mitchell at Capitol Weekly, the central coast city of Santa Cruz received the most Democratic ballot requests, with 29% of their independent absentees responding. Cities like Sacramento (15%), San Diego (14%), Los Angeles (7%), and San Francisco (0%) had notably poor response rates.

Registrars, such as San Diego County’s Michael Vu, suggest getting in touch with the County Registrar of Voters office to get the most up-to-update information on how to vote. Vu has released a number of press releases and updates on their webpage in order to disperse the most accurate information for the county. All materials are released in multiple languages to accommodate the diverse population.