A group of Bernie Sanders supporters filed a lawsuit in California on Friday, alleging that California’s presidential primary and voter registration process is confusing many California voters, and some county election officials are not doing enough to educate voters on their options. The lawsuit seeks a voter registration deadline extension to June 7 — primary election day.
California conducts a semi-closed presidential primary, which allows private political parties to decide if independent voters (called “No Party Preference” voters in California) can request the party’s presidential primary ballot.
This should not be confused with the nonpartisan, top-two open primary that is used in all statewide races (except presidential), which places all candidates on the same ballot, regardless of party affiliation, and the top two vote-getters move on to the general election, no matter how much of the vote the candidates get.
Three parties allow NPP voters to participate in their presidential primaries: Democratic, Libertarian, and American Independent. Three parties do not: Republican, Green, and Peace and Freedom.
Further, in the presidential primaries, voters registered with a political party cannot participate in another party’s primary. So registered members of a minor party, like the Libertarian or Green or American Independent, who want to vote for another party’s candidate at their local polling location, cannot unless they re-registered with the right party by May 23.
This does not even get into the additional rules for absentee voters, or the fact that an overwhelming majority of American Independent voters are reportedly registered with the party by mistake, or that voters may not know they have to actively request a party ballot, whether by mail or in person.
If all of this sounds confusing, don’t worry, it is, even for people who have spent most of their professional careers in California politics. That is why voter education is crucial, which brings us back to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs allege that some county election officials did not do enough to inform voters of their options or what they needed to do in order to vote for their candidate of choice in the presidential primary. One of the primary focuses is on whether or not these officials made it clear to NPP voters that they have to actively request a party’s ballot to receive it.
There are allegations that some county registrars have instructed poll workers to just give a provisional ballot to NPP voters without explaining the options available to them. Each county is allowed a certain level of autonomy to decide how to handle elections and voter instructions.
Monday was the deadline to register or re-register to vote in California’s June 7 primary.