California independents: You can vote for a Democrat

A non-tech public service announcement.

Published February 4, 2008 6:09PM (EST)

Imagine that like your friendly neighborhood tech columnist, you're one of those odd birds unaffiliated with an organized political party -- what the state of California regards, formally, as a "decline to state" voter. But despite your failure as a joiner, you'd like to have a say in Tuesday's presidential primary. So, are you allowed to do that?

Consider this a public-service announcement for DTS voters who reside in the great state of California: Yes, people, you can vote for a president tomorrow -- well, for a Democrat, at least. Here, I'll tell you how.

Rules for unaffiliated voters vary by state (as do rules for every other aspect of voting -- ah, democracy!). In California, the Republican Party allows only Republicans to vote for its presidential candidates. But the Democratic Party and the American Independent Party (the California version of the Constitution Party) allow DTS voters to have a say.

If you are a DTS voter and would like to vote for either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, you can show up to your polling place on Tuesday and request a Democratic party ballot.

As the advocacy group the Courage Campaign points out (that's its video above), you might need to be firm with poll workers. They may not be aware that DTS voters have that right; explain to them that you do.

If they continue to deny you a Democratic ballot, ask for a provisional ballot; on that ballot, you can vote for a Democrat, and your vote will be counted after officials have determined that you are eligible.

Hey, I know what else you're wondering, though: "But I'm a DTS voter who votes by mail! Can I vote for a Democrat?"

Yes you can. You may have noticed that the ballot you got in the mail didn't include any presidential choices. That's because, of course, there are no decline-to-state candidates for the presidency.

If you're an absentee DTS voter and you wanted a Democratic ballot, you needed to have requested one from your voting registrar by Jan. 29 -- i.e., last week.

But if you have haven't yet mailed in your DTS ballot, you can go to your polling place on Tuesday and trade your DTS ballot for a Democratic ballot. The poll worker will destroy your DTS ballot, and you'll be able to vote for a Democrat. (Again, if poll workers aren't willing to bend, ask for a provisional ballot.)

If you've already mailed in your DTS ballot, you're out of luck. You can't get a Democratic ballot now (that would be voting twice). But keep these instructions handy for the next primary election.

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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2008 Elections