Voter Registration In California Could Undergo A Major Shift If Bernie Sanders Gets His Way

US Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at an election rally in Irvine, California on May 22, 2016. / AFP / Mark Ralston (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders has said loud and clear that he plans to fight on in the Democratic primary race to the bitter end, even if his ability to win the pledged delegate count is next to impossible. California is the bitter end, and although the rules of the state's primary seem to be set up almost perfectly for Sanders, his supporters haven't been happy with their implementation. To tip things in his favor — or remedy "mass confusion," they argue — Sanders supporters are asking that voter registrations in California be extended through election day, June 7.

Unlike what we saw in New York and most recently Oregon, California doesn't have a closed primary, which in theory Sanders supporters should be pleased about. You may remember that back in 2012 the Golden State redid their state-level system in favor of a top-two primary system (in which the top two vote-getters move on to the general election "regardless of party affiliation"). But that did not affect national race for president; the parties still control their respective presidential preference primaries. This year, California's primary is "partially open" — the Democrats have opened their primary to anyone who is registered as a Democrat or unaffiliated. If you're registered with another party, however, you're not welcome.

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Herein lies the confusion, according to the Sanders supporters. Even though independents might want to vote for Sanders — and in California they can — they might not get the right ballot, or know they're entitled to one. They have to request the right ballot, as the traditional unaffiliated one doesn't include the presidential vote. William Simpich, an Oakland civil rights attorney and Bernie Sanders supporter, filed suit on Friday and explained why to the Los Angeles Times:

Mistakes are being made. ... There's mass confusion. This is a situation that really shouts out for some uniformity

He alleges in the suit that election officials in some of California's 58 counties are not making it clear that the unaffiliated (known as "no party preference" in California) voters who choose to vote by mail understand that they can take a ballot from one of the parties that allows them to vote in the race for president. In addition to the Democrats, unaffiliated voters can choose to vote with the Libertarian Party and California's American Independent Party. The Republican primary in the state is closed this year.

If the "no party preference" voters don't request a ballot from one of those three parties, they receive one that has state or local races, but just a blank space where the presidential poll would be. Simpich, who is joined by several other plaintiffs, including a pro-Bernie voter education group called the Voting Rights Defense Project, says that the voters have not been sufficiently informed of that option.

Only about 9 percent of Los Angeles County "no party preference" voters had been mailed a Democratic ballot as of last week, the Times reported. To counter that, Simpich asks the judge to require election officials to conduct a widespread voter awareness campaign about the rules up until May 31, the deadline for voting by mail. Sanders has seen wide support among the independent or unaffiliated voting population in other primary states.

And in a seemingly separate note, he calls for voter registration to be extended until voting day, June 7. Voter registration has already been way up in the state. Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., a California firm that tracks state voting trends, told The Mercury News, "There is no precedent for this in California since 1980 in terms of the overall surge in voter registration."

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More than 850,000 people have registered in the state from January to April, and another 600,000 re-registered. Then another 200,000 registered through a Facebook campaign that ran last week, The Mercury News reported.

Unless the lawsuit is successful, California voter registration is set to close Monday, May 23. Applications must be postmarked by this day or submitted online. The California system allows you to do the entire registration process online in ten languages including English — and it takes no more than five minutes.

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