Thousands of independent Californians accidentally registered to a right-wing political party

How hard is it to check a box?
How hard is it to check a box?
Image: Reuters/Jim Young
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California is home to a lot of people who think of themselves as independent: There are almost as many voters unaffiliated with any political party (4.13 million) as there are registered Republicans (4.82 million).

And then there are the many thousands of people who believe they are independent, but who actually registered by mistake with a small, right-wing, formerly segregationist party.

More than 500,000 California voters—3% of the state’s total—are registered to the American Independent Party. Founded in 1967 to support the candidacy of former Alabama governor George Wallace, the party opposes taxes, food labeling, immigration, abortion, gay marriage, and “liberalism.”

The AIP bills itself as California’s fastest-growing political party, thanks in large part to its confusing placement on voter registration forms.

Actual independents shouldn’t declare a party.
Actual independents shouldn’t declare a party.
Image: California Secretary of State

An LA Times poll of 500 AIP voters found that 73% did not realize they were members. After hearing the party’s platform, 45% were content to stay with the party. The rest wanted out.

Those accidental registrations could cause problems in the state’s upcoming June 7 presidential primary, especially for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders (who is an actual independent, not an American Independent.)

An absentee ballot request card for unaffiliated California voters.
An absentee ballot request card for unaffiliated California voters.
Image: Registrar of Voters

The Republican primary is closed—only registered party members can vote. The Democratic primary is open to party members and unaffiliated voters. It’s become a regular feature of California politics to have voters show up to cast primary ballots and learn they’re unable to do so because they’ve accidentally aligned themselves with a party whose official platform includes the obligation to “put a justified fear into the hearts of evildoers.”

After obtaining the register of AIP members through a public information request, the LA Times found several prominent figures who had mistaken the American Independence Party for independence, including actors Emma Stone and Demi Moore, Silicon Valley business honchos, the family members of several California politicians, and even a few of their own journalists.

Fortunately, it’s not too late. Voters have until May 23 to change their party affiliation in advance of the June 7 primary.