Some officials concerned over political party changes; no reports yet in Nevada County
Nevada County voters may have to re-register their party preference before next year’s March primary.
According to a press release from Placer County officials, thousands of voters have complained that their party preference had been switched to “No Party Preference.” The issue has been noticed in several other Northern California counties, leading some, including Placer County Registrar of Voters Ryan Ronco, to point to the Department of Motor Vehicles’ automatic voter registration program as a potential culprit.
“With automatic voter registration we’ve noticed anyone who’s interacted with the Department of Motor Vehicles since April of last year has the potential of having their party preference moved into a ‘No Party Preference’ status,” Ronco said in the press release.
Since the DMV’s Motor Voter program began in April 2018, U.S. citizens over 18 years of age who complete a driver’s license, ID card or change of address transaction have had their voter information shared with the Secretary of State’s office for voter registration, unless they opt out.
While the program was designed to help residents easily register to vote and increase voter turnout, it hasn’t been without flaws, with the DMV admitting last September that technician errors affected 23,000 customers’ voting preferences, such as vote-by-mail selections, language and party preference.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who is responsible for federal and state elections for races in California, denied widespread voter party preference changes were due to the DMV.
“Despite recent claims, there is no widespread glitch with the California Motor Voter program changing voters’ party affiliation,” Padilla said in a press release. “It is important to note that every voter registration at the DMV requires the voter to select their political party preference, review their selection, and attest to its accuracy.”
Secretary of State spokesperson Sam Mahood said the party preference changes could be attributed to the confusing interface of the registration system that was updated in January after complaints of people mistakenly choosing the No Party Preference selection.
“In 2018 the Party Preference screens at the DMV may have caused some confusion for voters, leading them to inadvertently select No Party Preference,” Mahood said in an email. “Our office worked with DMV to improve these screens.”
When the Motor Voter program was implemented in April, the registration process featured a screen that gave voters the option of choosing No Party Preference or clicking another screen to choose from all available political affiliations. During that time, 60% of new registrants selected No Party Preference. When the process was changed to include all party preference options on the same page — without having to go through an extra screen to reach party affiliations — the number of new registrants choosing No Party Preference dropped to 24%.
According to Nevada County Assistant Registrar of Voters Natalie Adona, the Elections Office has not noticed any voter registration irregularities, but it’s possible voters may have not noticed yet.
“We don’t have reason to think at this time that Nevada County’s voters are experiencing systematic problems with registration at DMV,” Adona said in an email. “It is so important for voters to check the status of their own registration. Doing so empowers the voter and allows him or her to take appropriate steps if a problem arises. It helps our office maintain accurate records and provides us the opportunity to give feedback to those conducting voter registration activities.”
As Adona said last week, people who have a No Party Preference designation can vote as a crossover voter in the March 2020 primary for Democratic Party, American Independent Party and Libertarian Party, but not in the Republican Party, Green Party, and Peace and Freedom Party primaries.
Those voters with No Party Preference — approximately 18,000 voters in Nevada County, about one third of its electorate — will receive a postcard from the elections office with instructions on how to request a crossover ballot. If a voter with No Party Preference does not request a crossover ballot, they will need to re-register their party affiliation to vote in the presidential primary or will receive a nonpartisan ballot without an option to vote in the presidential primary.
“If any voter thinks there is an issue with their registration, the Secretary of State’s office or their county elections office can research their record,” Mahood said. “In nearly every case, there is a reasonable explanation for any changes to a voter’s registration record.”
To check voter registration status, people can visit http://www.voterstatus.sos.ca.gov.
To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.
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This story will be updated as more votes are counted. The results must be certified by Oct. 22.