Public Comment

Commentary: You May Have Your Ballot, But You May Not Be Able to Vote

By Constance M. Piesinger
Tuesday January 29, 2008

Thousands of absentee voters registered as independents are in for a shock when they open their ballot envelopes for the upcoming primary election and discover there are no presidential candidates’ names on their ballot. If you’ve already opened your envelope and discovered this, then you’re probably one of over 10,000 California voters who have already called their county Registrar of Voters to find out how to fix the problem. You learned that the Registrar would mail you a partisan (e.g., Democratic or American Independent) ballot, which you could then fill in and mail back. (Republicans have excluded independents in this election.) 

If you are registered as a Democrat, a Republican, or another officially recognized third party such as the Green Party, you received a Vote by Mail ballot in the mail that included your party’s slate of presidential candidates. However, if you are registered as an independent (or “Decline to State”) voter and requested an absentee (Vote by Mail) ballot, the ballot you received was a “non-partisan” ballot. This means that it has all the measures and propositions listed, but no slate of presidential candidates. 

Unfortunately, many independent voters haven’t looked at their ballots yet, and time is of the essence. Voters must request their new ballots from their Registrar by the Jan. 29 or it’s too late. They can also carry their ballot into their polling place and exchange it there for a ballot with presidential choices. 

But here the voter who registered independent may run into another problem: This year, California has eliminated walk-in polling places in many precincts throughout the state. So voters who are used to voting at their walk-in polling place may assume it’s still there and then discover it’s gone. 

Voters in areas where their polling places have been eliminated can only vote by using Vote by Mail ballots (formerly referred to as absentee ballots). They will have already received them, but may not have known why. A mail-in ballot must be received by your County Election Department by the close of polls (8 p.m.) on election day (Feb. 5). You may also choose to bring it in person to any county polling place on election day. 

Another problem reported by Registrars of Voters is that some people who wished to register as independents mistakenly registered as American Independents (an official third party with its own slate of candidates). Unfortunately, those voters just discovering this mistake will not be able to vote for any other party’s candidates, because the deadline to change their affiliation was Jan. 22. 

So, if you are a voter who registered independent and absentee and wish to vote for one of a political party’s presidential candidates, you must call your Registrar of Voters at your county’s Election Department and request a partisan ballot (e.g., Democratic Party or American Independent Party). You should receive a new ballot promptly. Alternatively, you can bring your independent (Decline to State, or non-partisan) ballot to your polling place on election day and exchange it for the partisan ballot of your choice—if your polling place is still there. 

These are some of the problems California voters may face as a result of confusing rules and changes in how we vote. Voters who registered independent and haven’t yet dealt with these problems need to examine their ballots immediately, call their Registrars, and get new ballots. Otherwise, they risk losing their voice in this important upcoming primary election. 


Constance M. Piesinger is a resident of Yountville (Napa County) and a supporter of Barack Obama.