Independent Voter in California? Here's How You Can Cast a Ballot in March 3 Presidential Primary

Election Guide
A polling location station is seen in a file photo. (Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

A polling location station is seen in a file photo. (Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

More than 5 million independent voters, called “no party preference” in California, are eligible to vote in the March 3 presidential primary. Here’s what you need to know:

WHO CAN THEY VOTE FOR?

The Democratic, Libertarian and American Independent parties allow California voters without a party to vote in their presidential primaries. The American Independent party is a conservative political party, but voters sometimes get confused by its name. The Republican, Green and Peace and Freedom parties don’t let voters outside the party into their primaries. If someone wants to vote in one of those primaries, they will need to change their registration.

HOW DO THEY GET A BALLOT?

Independents must affirmatively ask for a presidential primary ballot to get one. If someone votes in person at a polling place, they’ll be asked by poll workers if they want a presidential ballot.

People who vote by mail will receive a notice from their county in the mail asking if they want a presidential primary ballot, and they must return it with a party selected. Many of these notices have already gone out. If a voter doesn’t get one, or accidentally throws it away, they can also request a ballot by calling, emailing or faxing their county elections office. If their ballot comes in the mail and does not include a presidential contest, they can request another and wait until that ballot comes to vote. Voters can also exchange the black ballot without presidential candidates at a vote center or polling place.

HOW DO I CHECK MY VOTER STATUS?

People can check their voter registration at voterstatus.sos.ca.gov. California now automatically registers people to vote when they visit the Department of Motor Vehicles, so some people may not know they are registered. Californians can change their party registration until Feb. 18.

That page will also tell you whether you are registered to vote by mail. The majority of California voters now vote by mail. California will begin mailing out ballots for the March primary on Feb. 3, the same day as the Iowa caucuses.

Voters can also visit howtovoteforpresident.sos.ca.gov for more information on how to vote.

WHAT HAPPENED TO CALIFORNIA’S TOP-TWO PRIMARIES?

California still conducts top-two primaries, where all candidates are on the same ballot, regardless of party, for local, state and Congressional elections. But the presidential primary operates differently.

WHAT ELSE DO I NEED TO KNOW?

While the technical deadline to register to vote is Feb. 18, voters can register all the way through Election Day. Their registration will be conditional, meaning their vote won’t be counted until elections officials can verify that they are eligible to vote.

Contact info for county elections offices is available at https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voting-resources/county-elections-offices/

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