California's Independent Voters May Be In Limbo

In a presidential race that's been down to the wire with one of the most competitive primaries in decades, the California contest on June 7 is shaping up to be one for the books. Candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are virtually tied in the polls, and California's large Independent voting block is in a unique position to help break that tie. But there's just one problem — the state's confusing voting system for Independents has left many shut out of the process altogether. So while Independents can vote in the California primary, some may find themselves unable to cast a ballot on the actual day.

What's so confusing about the process? The name, for starters. An investigation by the LA Times found that while the American Independent Party has the largest number of members out of California's third parties, a majority — up to 73 percent — may have registered under it by mistake. The American Independent Party name itself is misleading — while many thought it was for Independent voters, the party actually represents an ultraconservative platform that is staunchly anti-choice and supports abolishing same-sex marriage. In short, it is not the Independent party that voters know. Many Independent voters checked this party on accident while registering to vote in the primary. The deadline to register — had they caught their mistake — was on May 31.


Independent voters have been running into another issue. In order to vote in the Democratic primary, they had to request a democratic ballot. They can still technically cast a vote with a "no party preference" ballot, but that particular type of ballot has no candidates listed, leading to even more confusion. Early exit polling indicated that only 15 percent of the 40 percent of Independents who wished to vote for a Democratic candidate had actually requested a democratic ballot. A lawsuit filed by Bernie Sanders supporters had requested that voters receive more time to register given California's confusing primary rules, but that lawsuit was rejected earlier this week.

And with 548 delegates up for grabs, the Sanders camp was right to make some noise on the issue. Should those Independent voters swing his way, it could justify Sanders staying in the Democratic race up until the convention.

Regardless, this primary race has shown that California's voting system could use some overhaul. With thousands of Independent voters left in the balance during their own primary, California ought to reevaluate how to best cater to all of their voters.