How thousands of voters in California registered for the wrong political party

Many residents who consider themselves 'independent' voters, not affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican parties, accidentally registered with the 'American Independent Party.' 

Mike Segar/Reuters
Part of an early 20th century voting booth used in New York is seen on display at an exhibit of historical voting items and political memorabilia at the Schenectady County Historical Society in Schenectady, N.Y.

Thousands of California voters registered under the American Independent Party had no idea they were members of a far right group founded by a segregationist, which opposes same-sex marriage and supports a US border wall, according to a Los Angeles Times investigation.  

A telephone survey of 500 residents in California discovered that almost 75 percent of the people registered under the party mistook the ultraconservative party for the "no party preference" option, for those who are not affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic parties. Many residents told the LA Times that they were confused by the name "Independent."

"Years ago, thinking I was registering as an independent voter, I unintentionally registered with the American Independent Party, an abhorrent group that does not align with my values in any way," Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who is married to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, told The Times. "I encourage voters to check their own records before the upcoming presidential primary."

With the upcoming primary elections set to take place in June 7, residents have until May 23 to re-register with a different political party. If they do not, they will not be allowed to vote in the primaries: the Republican contest is closed, for registered members only, while the Democratic primary is open to registered members and actual independent voters with "no party preference." 

Several celebrities including Demi Moore, Sugar Ray Leonard, Emma Stone, and Kaley Cuoco are among those who told the Times that they were misled by the name "Independent."

"The views of this party do not accurately reflect my personal beliefs and I am not affiliated with any political party," Ms. Cuoco, best known as Penny in the CBS comedy series "The Big Bang Theory," told the Times. "As such, I am taking the necessary steps to immediately remove my name as a member of this voting party."

The American Independent Party (AIP) was formed in 1967 by Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama, who ran as the brand-new party's presidential nominee on a segregationist platform the next year. Today, the party exists only in California, with nearly half a million registered members.

"Right now, it's misleading," said Gail Pellerin, Santa Cruz County's registrar of voters. "I had a voter totally break down and cry in my lobby," she added, recalling a woman who couldn't vote in the 2008 Democratic primary because she was registered under the AIP.

"I'm sorry that people get confused," party chairman Mark Seidenberg told the Times. "A lot of people just don't understand what they're doing when they fill out a form."

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