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Sanders backers file suit to extend registration for California primary

Although Monday was the deadline for registering or making party changes in the California presidential primary on June 7, a federal lawsuit filed by supporters of Bernie Sanders and the conservative American Independent Party calls for extending that deadline to Election Day due to alleged errors and omissions in election materials sent to voters.

The lawsuit, which was filed by civil rights attorneys William Simpich and Stephen R. Jaffe in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, names as defendants Alameda County Registrar of Voters Tim Dupuis; the director of the San Francisco Board of Elections. John Arntz; and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

One of the plaintiffs’ key arguments involves alleged disenfranchisement of thousands of voters in Alameda County and San Francisco due to inadequate information given to independent voters – that is, those voters who decline to state a party affiliation. The Democratic Party in California allows independents to cross over and vote in the Democrats’ presidential primary, and the Sanders campaign has had success this primary season in getting support from independent voters in other states.

In California, three parties – Democratic, Libertarian and American Independent – allow independents to cross over and vote for their candidates in the race for president. The lawsuit, however, alleges that Dupuis and Arntz distributed electronic vote-by-mail applications on their official websites that failed to inform all voters of their right not to align themselves with any party, as required by the California Elections Code.

The lawsuit also alleges that voters should have been informed about their right to personally deliver vote-by-mail applications to country registrar offices by the May 31 deadline.

Simpich, who predicted that it would take another day or two to get a date for a judicial hearing on the lawsuit, told AMI Newline on Monday that he would like to see a wide distribution of information about crossover voting rights in the coming weeks in California.

"We’d simply like something consistent regarding no-party-preference voters and rights to receive a presidential ballot,” he said.

Asked about whether some Democratic Party officials in the state were purposefully trying to reduce crossover voting, Simpich replied, “Some are and some aren’t. It’s a mixed bag, and we want that to end.”

In an Internet article, Simpich, who supports Sanders for president, said inadequate information about crossover voting rights has likely been the case in 10 to 20 of the state’s 58 counties.

Sam Mahood, press secretary to Secretary of State Alex Padilla, told AMI Newswire that, “Without commenting on pending litigation, this is an important time to remind voters of their rights and ballot options." 

“We have – and will continue – to provide information to voters via our website, social media, press releases, our voter hotline and the Voter Information Guide,” Mahood continued. “The voter registration deadline is set by state law.”

Dupuis, the Alameda County registrar, echoed Mahood’s statement on the registration deadline. He told AMI Newswire that although California will soon be moving to a system in which people can register to vote on Election Day, that would not be possible with the current system.

Asked about some of the details in the lawsuit, Dupuis said, “We haven’t been served yet, so what I know about it is probably as much as you know.”

The Alameda County registrar said that the process his office followed in recent weeks was the same one used in the past several elections. It is consistent with the Elections Code and what the other 57 counties in the state are doing, he said.

About 60 percent of Alameda County voters vote by mail, Dupuis said, and those who declined to state a party preference were sent a voter packet containing a post card they could use to indicate a preference to vote in either the Democratic, American Independent or Libertarian presidential primary race.

He emphasized that any registered voter who declined to state a party preference can bring a vote-by-mail ballot to a polling place and receive a ballot to vote for a candidate in one of the three parties’ presidential primary contests. Voters can also come to his office to work through any issues involving crossover voting, Dupuis said.

“We have a transparent process,” he said, “but it’s certainly their right to challenge that process in court.”

The Republican Party in California does not allow crossover voting.