SUIT FILED AGAINST CALIFORNIA OVER NONPARTISAN VOTERS ACCESS TO PRESIDENTIAL BALLOTS

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Monday, May 31  is deadline for nonpartisan voters to request a party ballot to vote for a presidential candidate--but lawsuit seeks to extend that to June 7

By Miriam Raftery

May 21, 2016 (Sacramento) – Only 15% of California’s nonpartisan voters with mail-in ballots have requested a presidential primary ballot.  That means the vast majority won’t be able to vote for president in the June 7th election--and many are unaware of that restriction.

Now civil rights lawyers have filed suit against California and some counties, claiming the laws are confusing, inconsistent, and amount to disenfranchisement.  If they win, the biggest beneficiary could be Bernie Sanders, the Democratic contender who draws heavy support from independent voters, who account for nearly a quarter of the electorate in California.

THE PROBLEMS

In California, the Democratic, American Independent and Libertarian parties allow nonpartisan voters to vote in their primaries. But the voters must specifically request a ballot for one of those parties –otherwise they will receive a ballot listing no presidential candidates.  (The Republican party and others require voters to be registered in their party to vote.)

The suit focuses on decline-to-state or nonpartisan voters and issues with mail-in ballots.  The statewide deadline is May 31st to request a party ballot so that they can vote for president. But at least one County, Los Angeles, sent voters materials listing March 16—two and a half months earlier, as the deadline.

Plaintiffs include an organization backing Sanders as well as two independent voters and the American Independent Party, a conservative political party.

An independent expenditure group backing Sanders has launched a “Let My People Vote” campaign that includes a video discussing voter suppression problems and why the suit was filed.

The suit seeks more time for voters who declined to state party affiliations to request a ballot for the Democratic, Libertarian or  American Independent Party listing candidates for president, among other things. 

The Republican field has narrowed to just one candidate, Donald Trump.  On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton leads Sanders, but California’s huge delegate count could be pivotal in the race.  Sanders is campaigning hard statewide, drawing massive crowds and energizing many young, first-time voters. He also could potentially attract some nonpartisan voters disenchanted with Trump – but only if they know they must request a party ballot. 

The suit contends that  information to voters on the rules has been inconsistent from county to county—and in some cases, inaccurate.

Some counties failed to tell voters that they had an option to vote for partisan candidates in the primary, while others didn’t inform voters  with mail-in ballots that they can opt to vote in person at the polls on election day and request a party ballot, provided they didn’t already mail in their ballot.  Even instructions to poll workers vary, with some telling voters about their options to request party ballots, while others don’t.

The state of California has refused to require uniform election information because it doesn’t want to pay for materials, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Sanders lost New York to Clinton largely because of rules that prohibited voters from changing parties for months before the primary, meaning many independent voters who learned about Sanders’ candidacy after that could not vote for him. So despite a late surge in polls by Sanders, Clinton won.

WHAT THE SUIT SEEKS

Specifically, the suit asked the Superior Court to

  • mandate extending the deadline until June 7 for nonpartisan voters to request a party ballot or re-register,
  • allow write-ins of Democratic, Libertarian or American Independent Party presidential candidates or alternatively,  pull out ballots already cast and give these voters the option to revote;
  • require widespread distribution of this information in media,
  • assure that enough ballots for all presidential primaries are at polling places on Election Day and that no-party-preference voters are not denied their rights to receive party ballots at polling places,
  • allow provisional ballots only when there is no other alternative.

WHAT VOTERS SHOULD DO

If you’re a voter who declined to state party affiliation when registering, but you want to vote for president, here are your options:

Best choice is to vote in person at your county registrar of voters office and request a ballot for the party of your choice among those parties that allow nonpartisan participation. 

Another option for those with mail-in ballots is to ask by May 31st (Monday) to exchange it for a “crossover” mail-in ballot with the party of your choice.

Finally, you can bring your ballot to your polling place on election day and ask to exchange it for a Democratic ballot if you wish to vote for Sanders or Clinton, or a Libertarian or American Independent ballot if you want to vote for their candidates.