California

California could ban ‘misleading’ political party names

A staunchly conservative political party in California could have to change its name because some state lawmakers say it confuses voters into believing they are registering to vote as an independent.

The state Senate voted 29-11 on Friday to ban political parties from using "no party preference," ''decline to state" or "independent" in their official names. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has 30 days to review the bill and either sign it into law, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

The bill would apply to all political parties, but it is aimed at the American Independent Party. The party has been an option for California voters since 1968. Its members make up 2.59% of the state's registered voters, making it the third-largest political party behind Democrats at 43% and Republicans at 23%.

But critics say the party's membership is inflated because its name confuses voters into believing they are registering as independent or "no party preference." In 2016, the Los Angeles Times surveyed the party's registered members and found a majority did not know they had registered to vote with the party. Statewide, "no party preference" voters account for 28.6% of registered voters.

Representatives of the American Independent Party did not respond to an email seeking comment. According to its website, the party nominated Donald Trump for president in 2016 and "God willing, 2020."

Democratic state Sen. Tom Umberg, the author of the bill, said voters who mistakenly register with the American Independent Party can't vote in the state's Democratic presidential primary next year.

"It goes to our interest, our collective interest, that voters are not misled," Umberg said. "They can't confuse voters by choosing a name that many people associate with being independent when in fact they are not."

Republican Sen. John Moorlach opposed the bill, saying "the optics smack of political bullying."

"The American Independent Party has been around longer than many of us have been alive," Moorlach said. "I think it's a shame."

The law would take effect immediately if the governor signs it. It would require political parties to change their name by Oct. 29 or be disqualified.

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