With nearly half a million registered members, the American Independent Party is bigger than all of California’s other minor parties combined. The ultraconservative party’s platform opposes abortion rights and same sex marriage, and calls for building a fence along the entire United States border. Based in the Solano County home of one of its leaders, the AIP bills itself as “The Fastest Growing Political Party in California.” But a Times investigation has found that a majority of its members have registered with the party in error. Nearly three in four people did not realize they had joined the party, a survey of registered AIP voters conducted for The Times found. That mistake could prevent people from casting votes in the June 7 presidential primary, California’s most competitive in decades. Voters from all walks of life were confused by the use of the word “independent” in the party’s name, according to The Times analysis. Residents of rural and urban communities, students and business owners and top Hollywood celebrities with known Democratic leanings — including Sugar Ray Leonard, Demi Moore and Emma Stone — were among those who believed they were declaring that they preferred no party affiliation when they checked the box for the American Independent Party.
“I just blew it,” said Deborah Silva, 64, of Point Arena in Mendocino County. “There were a number of choices. I just checked the box that said ‘independent.’” Silva said she left the Democratic Party after being at her “wit’s end” from the deluge of mail, phone calls and other campaign paraphernalia from Democrats trying to win her vote.
While California’s top-two primary system allows people to vote for any candidate, regardless of party, presidential primaries have different rules.
Republicans have a closed primary this year. Democrats will allow voters registered as having “no party preference” — the state’s formal term for an unaffiliated, independent voter — to cast a ballot. But a voter registered with the American Independent Party will only be allowed to vote for presidential candidates on the AIP ballot. “And now, I’m going to have to tell them,” said Jill LaVine, Sacramento County’s registrar of voters. “And this is going to hit them hard.”