California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a new bill into law this month that changes the way voters can register their party affiliation for primary elections. Under this new measure, residents of the Golden State will be able to change parties at any time during the final two weeks before the vote, including on the day of the election. The stated purpose of this law is to boost election turnout, but what it will really do is make it easy for “Operation Chaos” maneuvers to crop up in congressional races around the state. (The Hill)
California’s governor signed a bill last week that allows state residents to switch their party affiliation on election day, a change expected to increase primary election participation.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed the bill Thursday, allowing voters to fill out a short form at any point in the last two weeks before an election including the day itself declaring their party affiliation.
The bill ensures that a resident may vote in their intended party’s primary even if they miss the official registration deadline, presuming that their application is accepted by county officials.
Describing this as a method of increasing voter turnout seems deceptive at best. In addition to motor voter, California already had same-day registration, allowing people to cast provisional ballots if they forgot to register earlier. There was no barrier to any legal resident (and in some cases, illegal ones) being able to show up at their precinct and vote.
This change doesn’t promise much impact on statewide races since Democrats generally win all of them anyway. But what it could wind up doing is allowing voters in swing districts to register to vote in the other party’s primary and then switch back to their own party for the general election. Imagine a scenario where a Democratic incumbent in Congress is facing a potentially tight race. If there is a less popular or problematic Republican running in the primary as a dark horse candidate and the Democrat doesn’t have a viable primary challenger, hordes of Democrats could switch parties on election day and vote for the Republican least likely to win in the general election. (The same scenario works with the parties reversed.)
That’s one of the factors that make the entire party registration process messy. In some other states, like New York, you can fill out a form to change your party affiliation whenever you like, but the change doesn’t take effect until after the next general election. That type of system at least cuts down on potential mischief. If you don’t want to bother registering with a party and participating in their efforts, why should you get a say in their rules or who their nominees are?
On top of all that, did California really need to complicate their voter registration process even further? We previously learned that in 2018 the state wound up improperly registering nearly 25,000 people through the motor voter system, with most of them being non-citizens. Now they’re inviting people to start mixing and matching the state party rolls at the drop of a hat. What could possibly go wrong?