Conservative voters became outraged as they read further and saw only three options listed on the “crossover ballot” postcard: American Independent, Democratic or Libertarian. What about Republicans?

Some voters were confused last week when they opened a notice from the Siskiyou County Clerk’s office asking them to select a political party ballot for the March 3 presidential primary election.

Conservative voters became outraged as they read further and saw only three options listed on the “crossover ballot” postcard: American Independent, Democratic or Libertarian. What about Republicans?

The notices are the result of federal laws that govern presidential elections under the closed primary system, explained Siskiyou County Clerk Laura Bynum, and they were only sent to voters who are registered as “No Party Preference” (formerly Decline to State) “Unknown,” or a non-qualified political party. And although they are confusing, the notices are not an effort by Siskiyou County officials to drum up Democratic voters.

“Historically, the Republican party does not open their primary to other political affiliations,” said Bynum. Neither do the Peace and Freedom or Green parties, which is why they’re not listed as options for NPP voters, either. The American Independent, Democratic and Libertarian parties are the only parties that opened their Primary Election to NPP voters, Bynum said.

If you believe that you’re a registered Republican, or one of the other five “qualifying parties,” and you received the notice, this indicates that somewhere along the way, your political party was changed.

This is not unheard of, said Bynum, because people may have inadvertently updated their political affiliation at the DMV, said Bynum.

“It happens sometimes when people are renewing their license and they don’t select an option for a political party,” Bynum said. “That kicks them into the ‘Unknown’ category.”

If you find yourself in this situation, Bynum suggests calling her office at (530) 842-8084, where they can do some research to see when your political affiliation was changed and to provide direction on a case by case basis.

The other option is to re-register to vote, but that process must be completed by Feb. 17 in order to vote in the March 3 primary. Voters can register to vote or update their registration status at www.registertovote.ca.gov, or by picking up a voter registration card at post offices and libraries throughout the county, or call the County Clerk’s office and request one be mailed to them. Voters can also access www.myvoterstatus.com to see how they are currently registered.

Although California has a “top two” primary process, where the top two vote-getters – regardless of political party – will appear on the general election ballot, the presidential election falls under federal law therefore and a “modified” closed election process is used.

The postcards aren’t unique to Siskiyou County, Bynum added. Every California county sent them out last week, or they will this week.

History behind California’s primary election system

A closed primary system governed California's primary elections until 1996, according to information on California Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s website. In a closed primary, only voters who are registered members of a political party may vote the ballot of that political party.

This changed with Proposition 198 after the March 26 primary election. Prop. 198 changed the closed primary system to what is known as a “blanket” or “open” primary, in which all registered voters may vote for any candidate, regardless of political affiliation and without a declaration of political faith or allegiance.

On June 26, 2000, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in California Democratic Party, et. al. v. Jones, stating that California’s “open” primary system was unconstitutional because it violated a political party’s First Amendment right of association, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

California’s current “modified” closed primary system for presidential elections took effect on Jan. 1, 2001. Senate Bill 28 implemented the current “modified” closed primary system that permitted voters who had declined to provide a political party preference to participate in a primary election if authorized by an individual party’s rules and duly noticed by the Secretary of State.

An NPP voter may request the ballot of one of the political parties, if any, that authorizes NPP voters to vote in the presidential primary election, which is where the postcards come in.