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Making Mischief in California Primaries




We’re thoroughly non-partisan here at Frying Pan News, but still we get many questions about voting. Most of them are about American Idol, but once in a while someone wants to know about elected officials. And while we still won’t tell you how to vote (though Professor Wagstaff’s dictum isn’t a bad place to start), we can happily answer some of your process questions.

Q: Hey, I heard a lot recently about voters “making mischief” in the presidential primary in Michigan. ’Sup with that?

A: It’s true—at least it’s true that you heard a lot about it, though there’s little evidence of any actual mischief-making. But some states do allow (just about) anyone to vote in (just about) any primary. In Michigan, the story goes, some Democrats – convinced that Romney would be the stronger opponent in the fall – crossed party lines to vote for Santorum in the primary, in the hope of weakening Romney.

Q: So can I do that here in California?

A: Boy, are you cynical. You’re what gives our electoral system a bad name, you know. Anyhow: No, you almost certainly cannot do that here.

Q: I can’t? But I thought we have this whole new open primary thing?

A: California passed Prop. 14 back in 2010, creating a new system where everyone – regardless of political party – gets the same ballot for all statewide offices. The top two vote-getters in the primary move on to the general, regardless of party.

Q: That sure sounds like I can make mischief. Why can’t I?

A: Because Prop 14 doesn’t apply to the Presidential race. Jeez, did you even read the language of the measure before you voted for it? But it does apply to the U.S. Congress, as well as statewide offices like governor, attorney general, and the state legislature.

Q: So does party affiliation matter or not?

A: Not for any statewide race, no. But for the presidential primary (and possibly for some local races), yes.

Q: What if I’m a registered independent? Does that change anything?

A: Wait, you’re a member of the American Independent party? Aren’t they kind of —

Q: Shut up. You know what I meant. I’m non-partisan. You know, DTS.

A: Actually, people not affiliated with any party in California aren’t called “decline-to-state” anymore. They’re called “no-party-preference.”


A: Yeah, you know me.

Q: Please don’t do that again.

A: Sorry. If you’re an NPP voter, then yes! Yes, you can vote in the primary of any political party!

Q: Woo hoo! Really?

A: No. Well, probably not. It is up to each political party to decide for itself whether or not it wants to open itself up to NPP voters in a presidential primary.

In 2004, the Dems, GOP and AI parties all allowed NPP voters to vote in their primaries. In 2008, only the Dems and AI welcomed NPP voters. This year, once more only the Dems and AI parties will allow NPP voters in the primaries.

Q: So the Democrats are more open and accepting than the GOP?

A: Um, you are aware that the Democratic primary this year is uncontested, right? Go nuts, mischief-maker!

Q: Fine. But let’s say that both main parties were to allow NPP voting—like they did in 2004. How would I exercise my franchise?

A: First, make sure you’re registered as NPP. Then just show up at the polls on election day and request the ballot for whichever party’s primary you want to vote in.

Q: What if I want to vote in one party’s presidential primary but another party’s Congressional primary?

A: Dude, are you not paying attention at all? Party doesn’t matter for Congressional elections anymore!

Q: Oh, right. Sorry, I can’t get Naughty By Nature out of my head. It’s kind of distracting. What if I’m registered NPP and I’m a permanent-absentee voter? How will my elections officials know which ballot to send me?

A: They won’t. If you’re registered NPP, you’ll automatically receive a non-partisan ballot. If you want to vote in a party’s presidential primary, you’ll have to take that ballot to the polling place on election day and trade it in for a party’s ballot.

Q: Isn’t that kind of a pain in the ass?

A: Yes.

Q: Where can I go if I want more information?

A: The Secretary of State and the League of Women Voters are pretty good places to start. Or, you know, consult your local library.

Q: So will my vote make a difference?

A: I guess there’s a first time for everything. Knock yourself out.

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