Some Siskiyou County residents who received the mailer believed that they were already registered as a Democrat or Republican, and therefore shouldn’t have received the mailer, which allows those with no party preference to select a presidential election “crossover ballot” for another party.

After some confusion and suspicion regarding “crossover ballot” mailers that went out to voters who are registered with no party preference in the past two weeks, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla is denying that a widespread DMV glitch is to blame.

Some Siskiyou County residents who received the mailer believed that they were already registered as a Democrat or Republican, and therefore shouldn’t have received the mailer, which allows those with no party preference to select a presidential election “crossover ballot” for another party.

“Elections officials across California work hard to make sure every voter is registered accurately,” said Padilla in a statement. “In a presidential primary election, a voter’s ... party preference determines which presidential candidates they can vote for. As Secretary of State, I want every voter to have the opportunity to cast a ballot for their preferred presidential candidate.”

Siskiyou County Clerk Laura Bynum and other voting officials noted that voter registration at the DMV requires people to select their political party, and if a box isn’t checked, they’re kicked into the “unknown” category. Padilla noted that this isn’t a glitch in the system and that the “Motor Voter” doesn’t change a voters’ party affiliation.

“It is important to note that every voter registration at the DMV requires the voter to select their political party preference, review their selection, and attest to its accuracy,” Padilla said. He directed voters to the website HowToVoteForPresident.sos.ca.gov to verify their voter registration status. Those that need to update their registration can do so at registertovote.ca.gov.

“If a voter believes there may be an issue with their registration, they should contact the Secretary of State or their county elections office to research their voter registration history,” Padilla said. “In nearly every case, there is a reasonable explanation for any changes to a voter’s registration record.”

Since the launch of the “Motor Voter” program in April 2018, Padilla said his office “has worked with the DMV to continuously improve the registration experience for voters.”

In January 2019, the political party preference screens used in Motor Voter were updated to help voters better understand how they were registering, he added.

“Assigning blame for alleged mass voter registration errors without evidence is irresponsible and undermines public confidence in our elections,” said Padilla in reference to several news articles that accused the DMV of attempting to drum up more left-leaning voters.

About ‘crossover ballots’

The notices are the result of federal laws that govern presidential elections under the closed primary system, explained 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.

“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.

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.

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.