Tom Umberg

Senator Umberg’s legislation to stop voter registration confusion passes committee

Senator Thomas J. Umberg (D-Santa Ana), Chair of the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments, presented Senate Bill 696 (SB 696) in the State Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting. The bill, which would prohibit the name of a political party from including the terms “independent,” “decline to state,” or “no party preference” or any variation of those words, passed the committee with bipartisan support vote of 6 to 1.

“Voter confusion has real world implications. For example, in 2016, a Santa Cruz County judge had to step in to rule that a voter could change their registration status. A person should not have to sue in order to vote,” said Senator Umberg. “If a voter wants true freedom from party affiliation, the state must ensure they are not misled. The evidence is overwhelming that most members of the American Independent Party had no idea they were actually associated with a political organization.”

Existing law prohibits the name of a new party from being too similar to the name of an existing party, as to avoid misleading voters. Unfortunately, this protection does not extend to independent voters who are typically registered as “No Party Preference.” When a political party’s name includes the word “independent” it creates voter confusion especially amongst those voters who wish to not register with any party, and call themselves “independent.” For example, contrary to what the name would have you believe, the American Independent Party (AIP) is, in fact, an ultraconservative group.

Today the AIP has over half a million-registered members, more than all of California’s other minor parties combined. Part of the reason for the large amount of registered AIP members is that California’s voter registration card lists possible parties in alphabetical order. As a result, the AIP is the first choice that an individual sees and includes the word “independent” in its title. A poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times found that fewer than 4% of registered AIP members could correctly identify their own registration as a member of the AIP. The same poll noted that more than 50% of registered AIP members wanted to leave the AIP once they were read excerpts of the party’s platform.

“As representatives of California residents and voters, we have an obligation to correct any wording on a state-issued document that is designed to be an impediment to our democratic system. This bill is simply meant to honor the intent of the California voter,” said Senator Umberg.

Senate Bill 696 would prohibit the name of a party from including the word ‘independent’, ‘decline to state’, or ‘no party preference’ or any variation of those words. SB 696 also requires the Secretary of State to provide notice to any qualified party whose name includes a variation of the word “independent” that they are required to change their name. Additionally, the Secretary of State will need to notify each voter registered to that party informing them of the resulting name change.

This article was released by the Office of Senator Thomas J. Umberg.