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California independents can cast ballots for Democrats — but not Trump — in March primary

John Myers, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California voters who are unaffiliated with a political party will be able to participate in the Democratic presidential primary next year, but they will be prohibited from casting ballots for President Donald Trump or any possible Republican challenger, according to information released Monday by state elections officials.

Those rules are made by the individual political parties, not the state. And while the split decision by Democrats and Republicans isn't new -- the same conclusion was reached in elections past -- it's a reminder of the somewhat confusing rules that cover primaries in the nation's largest voting state.

"As we enter the fifth election cycle under the 'top-two primary' system, California voters have become increasingly accustomed to voting for the candidates of their choice regardless of political party preference," said Secretary of State Alex Padilla in a written statement. "The presidential primary, however, remains the exception."

Because presidential primaries determine each officially recognized party's national nominee, party leaders get to determine who is and isn't eligible to participate. Primary elections for Congress and the Legislature, on the other hand, are subject to California's top-two primary rules enacted nine years ago, allowing a voter to cast a ballot for any candidate. In those contests, the names of all candidates are printed on every primary ballot and only the two candidates receiving the most votes move on to the November election.

The state's unique primary system has empowered the 6.2 million voters who are registered as having "no party preference," currently the second largest group of California voters behind registered Democrats. Both major parties have criticized the top-two primary because it can mean two candidates from the same party can be the only choices come November.

Presidential contests, however, have changed very little through the years.

 

The state's six officially recognized political parties -- the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Peace and Freedom Party and the American Independent Party -- are not required to give permission for unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in their quadrennial presidential primaries.

On Monday, state officials said three parties -- the Democratic Party, the Libertarian Party and the American Independent Party -- have agreed to do so. The other three will only allow their party's voters to participate in the March 3 primary.

"The California Democratic Party is the party of inclusion," said Rusty Hicks, the party's chairman. "Unlike others, we will continue to make it easier -- not harder -- for Californians to ensure their voices are heard at the ballot box."

Republicans insist that all voters, including those who decline to join a political party, can vote for their standard-bearer in November.

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