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Confusion Among California Independents Could Hurt Sanders

Being a self-identified independent voter is as popular in California as it is nationally, even if it mischaracterizes the growing partisanship of actual voting behavior. It got some serious attention earlier this year when the percentage of No Party Preference voters in California exceeded that of Republicans for the first time.

But in looking specifically at the Golden State, it’s important to understand that party registration — or the lack thereof — is insignificant in all but one isolated type of election. Local elections in California are all nonpartisan. And state elections since 2010 have been governed by a top-two system in which all candidates regardless of party affiliation are placed on the same primary ballot, with the two leading vote-getters proceeding to the general election. All voters, including those registered with any party along with No Party Preference voters, get the same ballots. Party affiliation has become relatively unimportant, which is probably another reason that NPP registration has risen.

There is that isolated exception, however: presidential primaries, in which top two has not been imposed for the obvious reason that it would make compliance with national party delegate selection rules impossible. An additional wrinkle is that California law allows the parties to choose whether to allow No Party Preference voters to participate in their presidential primaries. In 2016 and again in 2020, Democrats have said “yes” while Republicans have said “no thanks.”

But there’s a catch for NPP voters wanting to vote in the March 3 Democratic presidential primary: They have to ask for a Democratic ballot. That’s easy enough at a presidential polling place. But with voting-by-mail becoming the regular practice for a large and increasing majority of voters, NPP voters have to request a Democratic mail ballot, too.

California recently made this process easier by instructing county election offices to send out postcards to NPP voters that can be returned to request a “crossover” presidential primary ballot. So 4.2 million of these postcards have duly been mailed out, but no one knows how effective these cards — nestled into holiday mail — will be. Initial signs aren’t great, according to the Los Angeles Times:

Recent polling shows record levels of voter excitement, and 75% of nonpartisan voters say they want to vote in the Democratic primary. So far, it appears that only 9% to 15% are returning the postcards that would allow them to vote for a presidential candidate.


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Don midwest
Don midwest