American Independent Party Isn't As 'Independent' As Some Voters Think
A growing number of San Diego voters are opting against joining the country’s major political parties.
The number of people who check the box for "no party preference" on their forms is rapidly approaching the amount of registered Republican and Democratic voters in the county.
But the third-largest political party in the county — and one that’s growing fast — is the American Independent Party.
As of July, 3.4 percent of all San Diego County voters are registered as American Independents.
Carmen Lopez coordinates voter outreach for the county Registrar of Voters. She says the party is quite popular among new citizens, but not necessarily because they agree with the party platform. She thinks some are probably confused by the name.
"They’re just very proud and they want to be the American, so they seem to hone in on that name,” Lopez said.
The party was founded in 1967 to support presidential candidate George Wallace, a fiery supporter of states’ rights and segregation.
Today, the American Independent Party calls for limited government and strict control of U.S. borders. The party is against gay marriage and abortion.
It could be that most of the party’s recent growth comes from California voters who are genuinely attracted by its conservative platform. Still, Markham Robinson, who heads the party's executive committee, is willing to acknowledge that some might be confused.
“But every time people try to point this out, the attention drawn to the American Independent Party has resulted in an increase in our registration," Robinson said. "Many Republicans, a handful of Libertarians and many independents, that is, 'no party,' would really find a much happier home in the Independent Party.”
It’s not just new citizens who accidentally register with the party. Notable Californians who have made the mistake include the wife of Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts, also a Democrat.
There’s even a webpage dedicated to, some party opponents might say, setting the record straight.
On a recent morning at Golden Hall in downtown San Diego, Carmen Lopez attended a ceremony in which nearly 500 people from 63 different countries took an oath and became U.S. citizens. Lopez and other employees with the Registrar of Voters Office handed out registration forms afterward.
Lopez says they hit all the new citizen ceremonies to try to make sure new voters know what they’re signing up for. On this day, bilingual employees offer help in Spanish, Tagalog and Mandarin.
Jason Woo from the registrar’s office talked through the form with Jennifer Walker, a new citizen originally from Taiwan.
Asked whether she registered with a political party, Walker said no.
"She's not familiar with all the parties so she decided with no party preference,” Woo said, translating Walker's comments as she spoke in her native Mandarin.
But Walker does plan to vote this November.
"Because now I’m an American citizen," she said in English, with a smile.