Senate Bill 696, which would make some political party names illegal in California, faces a fight to the finish in Senate.
SB 696 states that political parties that include the phrase “no party preference” or “decline to state” or the word “independent” would no longer be permissible on ballots after October 29th of this year. Current parties that include one or more of those in their name would have by October 29th to file a name change. SB 696 has also been marked urgent, as election day is in less than two months.
The bill’s author is Senator Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) who said he is backing the bill because of the confusion at the polls.
“We have an obligation to correct any wording on a state-issued document that is designed to be an impediment to our democratic system,” Umberg said in June.“It is clear that many individuals who truly wish to be outside a political party preference are misguided by the name of certain parties when they register. This bill is simply meant to honor their intent.”
In California and many other states “Independent,” “No Party Preference,” and “Decline To State” are often used by candidates with no party backing or wishing to run by themselves. In recent years many prominent politicians, such as Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have been elected into office as an Independent over Republican and Democrat candidates. Under SB 696, this would not change for individual candidates running.
Supporters of the bill have shared Senator Umberg’s concern about ballot confusion, with at least one supporting group comparing having similar affiliations on ballots being akin to ‘those butterfly ballots in Florida [during the 2000 Election.’’ They also cite a recent poll of members of the American Independent Party, a large third party. The poll found that three in four erroneously join because of the confusion over party names. Support has largely been Democrat, with the only ‘no’ votes coming from Senate and Assembly Republicans.
There is formidable opposition to the bill. Prominent Republicans, most notably Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Red Bluff), have voted against the bill citing concerns over what the bill is actually doing.
Also opposing the bill are political parties being effected. The largest party affected, the American Independent Party, has been vehemently opposed to the bill.
“The new and improved voter registration form has, first, an explanation of political party preference,”said AIP California Chairman Markham Robinson in a recent interview. “Then, second, two headings with mutually incompatible assertions: ‘I want to choose a political party preference’ and ‘I do not want to choose a political party preference.’ Moreover, each of the party choices under the first heading has as the last word of its name, the word ‘Party.’ How can anyone who is paying the least attention or cares ignore the fact that they are picking a party to be a fan of?”
Affected third parties have also pointed out that there have been laws passed in other states that don’t allow election changes to take place so shortly before elections. While states like Ohio are affected by such laws, California is not. If passed, the AIP and other parties including the names outlined in the bill will need to change their name.
SB 696 is currently up for a final vote in the Senate.