In their own words: These Californians signed up for the wrong party by mistake

Dozens of voters have reached out to the Los Angeles Times since we began our project chronicling the widespread confusion that led many of them to mistakenly sign up for the ultraconservative American Independent Party.

We solicited responses from readers who shared their stories on our website, found folks spreading the word to their friends through social media and interviewed voters who had been contacted through a poll conducted for The Times.

Accidental AIP members included a self-described “anchor baby” from inland L.A. County, an attorney in Laguna Beach, a UC Berkeley student and a retired forklift driver from Fresno County. They include people who have spent decades as Republicans and Democrats, newly minted voters and veteran ballot-casters, and both Donald Trump supporters and detractors.

Here are some observations about the confusion in trying to be “independent,” in their own words.

A longtime Republican not on board with Trump

“I probably just saw the word ‘independent’ and thought, ‘Oh, that’s what I am,’ ” said Henry Arias, 58, who works in marketing.

“I would love for there to be a prominent party that represents the truth and doesn’t stick to a side for the sake of it. I would love for there to be a party that represents people like me,” he said.

Arias, who was a Republican for two decades and lives in Simi Valley in the heart of Reagan Country, considers himself a conservative. But when he learned about the American Independent Party’s support for Trump, he didn’t like it.

“That turns me off big time,” he said. “I think that Trump is very extreme and not conservative, and to hear that they support him makes me think that they’re extreme. And not careful.”

When he discovered his mistake, Arias said, he was “a little surprised, a little embarrassed. ... Because I was careless, I’m in a party that I don’t know anything about.”

How entirely misleading. It's like Kelloggs renaming Sugar Frosted Flakes, Worlds Healthiest Cereal.

Bob Buchmann of Oceanside, Calif., on his mistaken registration

The college student who ‘did really well’ in government class

“Utter embarrassment.”

That's how Jennifer Yu, a junior at UC Berkeley, describes how she felt when she discovered she was part of the AIP.

“I vote by mail and my parents send me the ballot, so I try my best to be informed in every single election,” says Yu, who is double-majoring in mathematics and computer science.

When she saw The Times’ story being shared on Twitter, she checked her registration, and realized her mistake.

“When people say that Bernie Sanders or Michael Bloomberg were independent, I honestly thought they belonged to the Independent Party,” Yu said.

She immediately changed her registration online, and then texted her high school AP government teacher to tell him she was a “low-information voter,” who had mistakenly registered. 

The teacher replied, “I should probably tell my students about that.”

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A self-described ‘’anchor baby’

Amanda Cabanilla, 25.
Amanda Cabanilla, 25. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Amanda Cabanilla described herself as a “queer child of immigrants,” and was appalled to learn about her affiliation with the AIP. 

“I’m currently in a same-sex relationship. I’m kind of the definition of an anchor baby, and I’m very, very pro-choice,” said the 25-year-old Whittier College student, who was featured in The Times story.

“I honestly had no idea that there was a difference between an American Independent Party and undeclared. I definitely think that the party name was misleading. I like to think that I’m informed, and I like to stay up with my current events.”

‘Just an old hippie’ who checked the wrong box

“I mean, just the way people talk about it, they say, ‘I’m an independent.’ That’s the word that stuck in my head when I went to re-register,” says Deborah Silva, 64, who lives in rural Mendocino County.

She says she remembers re-registering three years ago outside a grocery store. She says she opposes practically all of the American Independent Party’s platform.

“America was founded on immigration, for one thing. We’re all immigrants, from the beginning of our country. And I believe in a woman’s right to choose what they want to do with their bodies,” she says. “I’m just an old hippie.”

She says she regrets not paying closer attention, adding, “”I’m not one to blame others for dumb mistakes I’ve made.”

A lifelong Democrat who’s voting for Trump

“I thought I was changing it to where I could speak my own mind and vote for whoever I wanted to vote for,” says Evelyn Holliday, a retired forklift driver from Clovis.

She says she was approached outside a Wal-Mart one day by signature-gatherers who asked whether she wanted to re-register. “I remember them telling me that if I went this way, the American Independent Party, that I would be an American and I’m independent.” Looking back now, she says, it was a “stupid” move.

A lifelong Democrat, Holliday says she became disenchanted with the party, and now believes “they all lie.”

She says she’ll vote for Donald Trump because she likes his “straight talk,” but adds, “”I don’t want to become a Republican.”

An immigrant who’s proud to stand with AIP, even by mistake

Fayza Ghazal says she’s always prided herself on being a fierce independent. “I vote for the one that’s right for the country,” says Ghazal, 66, who emigrated from Egypt in 1979. “Before you vote and waste your voice, you should listen to what [candidates] have to offer, do some research, and don’t tie it to your registration.”

But when Ghazal heard about the American Independent Party’s platform points on same-sex marriage, illegal immigration and abortion rights, she said she agreed.

“I am very proud I registered with this American Independent Party, even if it is by mistake,” she said. “If they really stand next to what they believe, then that’s what I believe in.”

As an accountant who always prided myself on fact-checking, I was stunned to read in The Times that I may have been hoodwinked by a glibly manufactured label.

Komla Ametu of Sylmar

A recent New York transplant who studied voting issues

“Honestly, it would have been the top of irony,” says Courtney McKinney, 26, a writer who recently moved to Calaveras County from New York. 

McKinney says back in New York, she was “begrudgingly” registered with a political party because of the state’s closed primaries. “I was bummed that I had to affiliate,”  McKinney says.

When she realized California allowed voters to remain undeclared, she was ecstatic.

But then she discovered that she’d mistakenly registered for the American Independent Party, given its roots are with segregationist George Wallace. She is biracial.

She says she was embarrassed about the mixup, especially since she used to work on voting rights issues for a think tank on the East Coast.

“It was really too ironic, as someone coming from the left, hoping to find independence, and to find myself in one of the most conservative parties in California. It’s comical.”

I discovered my mistake when attempting to vote in the last presidential primary. When I entered the booth, I discovered that only AIP candidates were listed. The poor volunteer at a very racially diverse polling place informed me.

Meredith Alleruzo, Times reader

The attorney and the real estate broker

Elyse Caraco Miller and her husband consider themselves “relatively intelligent people,” Miller wrote in an email to The Times, but were shocked to discover they were mistakenly registered after reading The Times’ story.

“I’m certain that the party’s ‘fastest growing’ status is largely due to misconception and error, not an enthusiastic embrace of AIP’s platform,” she wrote. 

The article had a “direct impact on our household,” she said. They re-registered online that day.

A ‘moderate Republican’ who isn’t a Hillary fan

“I didn’t realize I belonged to some goofy, right-wing party,” says Richard Comerford. But when he read the story Sunday, he thought the American Independent Party sounded vaguely familiar.

So he dug out his voter registration stub, and, sure enough, he was listed as “AI.”

“I think these guys are just far, unusually right-wing,” he said after researching the party’s platform. Comerford, who lives in Santa Clarita, considers himself a “moderate Republican,” but was disappointed about the confusing process to register.

“I just wish the form was a little more clear,” he said.

Comerford says despite his leanings, he is planning to vote for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary because he dislikes Hillary Clinton. He changed his registration online so he could vote for Sanders on June 7.

For more on California politics, follow @cmaiduc.


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