Let nobody tell you that American politics are too predictable. So far, both presidential primary races have seen some of the most improbable rises to relevance in recent years — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, for example, who mounted a massively stronger-than-expected challenge to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, or billionaire businessman Donald Trump, who's actually become the presumptive Republican nominee. And, if you're a moderate or mainstream Republican, that latter example might bring a once-unthinkable question to mind: Can you vote for a Democratic candidate if you're not registered Democrat?
Under normal circumstances, it'd seem frivolous to seriously consider Republican voters turning out in any meaningful numbers to back Clinton, who's been painted as a sort of folk villain by the GOP throughout her more than 20 years in the national spotlight.
But the presence of Donald J. Trump, one of the weakest and most internally divisive Republican nominees ever, might just change that. Maybe the party will consolidate around him, sure — that's what usually happens, after all. But what if you simply can't hold your nose and vote for somebody like him? Will you be able to check the box (or, as the case may be, tap the screen) for Hillary Clinton when the general election rolls around, even if you're a registered Republican?
The answer, fortunately, is yes! To be clear, you do have to be registered to vote in order to cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election on Nov. 8 (and be sure to check whether your state has one of those onerous voter ID laws), but you don't have to be registered in the same party as the candidate you support, or even any party at all. Your ballot will list all the candidates who've qualified to appear, including (barring any unforeseen circumstances) Trump and Clinton, and you can vote for whomever you please.
This is in contrast to how the rules sometimes work during the primary season, which might explain any confusion. Primaries and caucuses are not actually governmental elections, but rather are party functions designed to determine who the nominee will be. As such, each party has the right to decide whether they want their process open to everyone, or kept exclusive — in some states, the primaries are "closed," meaning you must be a registered member of the party to participate.
That's not how it works in the Nov. 8 general election, however. If there's a presidential candidate on the ballot, and you're registered and eligible to vote, you get your pick of anyone. Obviously, there's no way to know for sure whether this will prove all that relevant, since partisanship is a powerful force in American life, and the idea of significant numbers of Republicans voting for Clinton still seems somewhat unthinkable. But after months and months of righteous indignation on the part of countless mainstream, anti-Trump conservatives — the #NeverTrump people, basically — she should stand the best chance possible.