Nearly half a million California voters may be unable to participate in the state’s presidential primaries on June 7 as a result of confusion in the voter registration process, a Los Angeles Times investigation has discovered.
Hundreds of thousands of Californians who intended to register as independents may have accidentally registered instead with the ultra-conservative American Independent Party (AIP), which opposes abortion rights and same-sex marriage, and calls for building a fence along the entire U.S. border.
The LA Times reports that “a majority of (AIP) members have registered with the party in error,” and that “nearly 3-in-4 people did not realize they had joined the party” after surveying registered members.
The Times had a team of Republican and Democratic pollsters contact a list of 500 AIP members, obtained through a public records request, who determined that “fewer than 4% could correctly identify their own registration as a member of the American Independent Party.”
Many of those contacted were confused by the inclusion of the term “independent” in the party’s name, and thought they had registered as independent voters with no party affiliation — which would have allowed them to participate in the state’s Democratic primary, unlike AIP voters.
California voters can find links to check their registration status at the Secretary of State’s website.
The Times found that more than 50% of those polled said they wanted to leave AIP after being read parts of the party platform.
Additionally, the registration rolls of AIP revealed some high-profile figures who unwittingly joined the party when they meant to declare they had no party affiliation.
Members include celebrities Demi Moore, Emma Stone, Sugar Ray Leonard and Kaley Cuoco, as well as Patrick Schwarzenegger, son of the state’s former GOP governor, and Silicon Valley power players Mark Pincus and Jim Breyer.
All of the public figures and celebrities that were mentioned in the report responded to the investigation with statements saying they intend to change their registrations.
The deadline to register or change voter registration in California for the June 7 primary is on May 23. But state rules block voters who are mistakenly registered with AIP from participating in other primary contests, so voters accidentally enrolled in AIP will need to act in order to cast primary ballots.
California Republicans are holding a closed primary, meaning only registered Republicans can participate. In the Democratic primary, registered Democrats and “no party preference” voters are allowed. Neither primary allows for participation by AIP members, who are explicitly registered with the party and can only vote for candidates on the AIP ballot.
Despite the widespread confusion revealed by the LA Times investigation, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said he wasn’t looking to address the situation, according to the report.
“My office isn’t in the business of censoring or amending a political party’s name. It’s a very imperfect process,” he told the LA Times.
Meanwhile, Mark Seidenberg, the AIP chairman of Aliso Viejo, “expressed skepticism” about the Times investigation.
“I’m just sorry that people get confused. A lot of people just don’t understand what they’re doing when they fill out a form,” he told the LA Times.
But other election officials have expressed concern and frustration. Gail Pellerin, Santa Cruz County’s registrar of voters, told the newspaper: “I think the name should be something different. Right now, it’s misleading.”
Recent polling shows competitive match-ups on both sides in the state, and with razor-thin margins of error in the delegate races, candidates will need every available vote in the final contest of the 2016 primary.