Independent Voters Deserve Protections

September 20, 2019

Senator Umberg Logo

Independent voters are the fastest growing group of voters in California. Almost 30% of all registered voters have made the conscious decision to disassociate themselves from any political party. Yet, there is reason to believe that this group is even larger.

Often when Californians attempt to register as true independent voters, they mistakenly register with the American Independent Party (“AIP”). Sometimes this occurs because it is the first political party listed alphabetically on the state’s voter registration form.  Too often, however, potential voters, deciding how they wish to be registered, conclude that they are both “American” and “Independent:” and therefore must be “American Independent.” Many (if not most) do not know that the AIP was founded to promote the presidential prospects of George Wallace -- Alabama’s segregationist former governor. Consequently, the AIP currently has over half a million-registered members, more than all of California’s other minor parties combined.

A recent poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times found that fewer than 4% of registered AIP voters could correctly identify their own registration as a member of the AIP. The same poll noted that more than 50% of registered AIP members wanted to leave the AIP once they were read excerpts of the party’s official platform. Even the former AIP Chairman acknowledged this voter confusion in a Los Angeles Times investigation by saying “A lot of people just don’t understand what they’re doing when they fill out a form.”

This voter confusion has real world consequences. Unlike voters registered as ‘no party preference’ (true Independents), individuals who are registered with the American Independent Party are prevented from casting votes in the Democratic Presidential Primary. In 2016, a Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge ordered elections officials to change an individual voter’s registration to ‘no party preference’ so that her ballot could be counted in the Democratic presidential primary after she convinced the court that she had mistakenly registered with the AIP. California’s independent voters should not have to sue in order to exercise their right to vote.

Today, my Senate Bill 696 is on Governor Newsom’s desk awaiting his approval.     SB 696 will align California with Wyoming, which bans the word ‘independent’ in the name of any new political party. Upon implementation, the AIP will have an opportunity to change its name and retain its qualified party designation. SB 696 has bi-partisan support in the California State Legislature, our Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, State Controller Betty Yee, and the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials.

Current law prohibits the name of a new party to be similar to the name of an existing party as to avoid misleading voters – meaning that Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians all have protections on their party’s name. Independent Californians also deserve to be protected from misleading labels, and SB 696, if signed by the governor, will reduce voter confusion and effectuate voter intent.