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Want to register as an independent? Don't get confused by the AIP

The press release arrived on April Fool’s Day, and it turns out it was legit, but as we say in this business, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

It was from AIPrl_Fooled, a self-identified “grass-roots campaign to bring awareness to the fact that hundreds of thousands of Californians are accidentally registered as members of the American Independent Party.”

Maybe even you.

While this is not breaking news, it’s worth repeating, especially with the May 19 deadline to register to vote in the June primary:

The American Independent Party, or AIP, is California’s fastest-growing political party, with about 2.6% of all registered voters — a lot of them, in all likelihood, because of a mistake: the word “independent.”

There’s no other logical explanation for why the third-largest party in one of the nation’s most liberal states is the party whose presidential nominees have included segregationists George Wallace and Lester Maddox. According to its platform, the AIP is God-inspired, anti-gay marriage, antiabortion and dedicated to “freedom from liberalism.”

California voters are sick to the teeth of partisan wrangling between Democrats and Republicans. They want to vote, but not to reward the major parties’ bad behavior by belonging to either one.

So they see American Independent Party on the voter registration form. Alphabetically, it’s the first choice listed, and, as California Voter Foundation President Kim Alexander told me, it’s the only place the word “independent” appears on the form.

So voters may think, “Yeah, independent, that’s me,” and check the AIP box.

More than one public figure has done it. In 2008, when L.A. City Council member Bernard C. Parks, the African American former police chief, ran for county supervisor, his opponent, Mark Ridley-Thomas, pointed out that Parks had once belonged to the AIP. Parks said he had just been trying to register as an independent.

The wife of Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom got caught in the same mess, registering as AIP when what she wanted to be was an independent.

Analysts have studied this phenomenon for years. Richard Hasen, an elections expert at UC Irvine, wrote in The Times in 2008 that “something has to be done so that independent-minded voters don’t get confused by the American Independent Party label.”

That was the point of the press release. (The phone number on the AIPrl_Fooled press release is the same one for Mark Vargas Consulting. Vargas was a member of the state’s Little Hoover Commission and a former consultant to Gov. Gray Davis.)  

AIP may be the state’s fastest-growing party, but the fastest-growing political affiliation (nearly one voter in four, about 10 times the AIP numbers) is no party affiliation at all.

It used to be called “decline to state,” but now it’s “no party preference.”

Either label is a lousy, clumsy, negatives-driven designation for voters, and it’s time to find a better one — something clear, something upbeat.

Nominations are now open.

How about the No-Party Party?

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Follow Patt Morrison on Twitter @pattmlatimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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