Decline to state? Important ballot choice to make

The Iowa caucuses got off to a raging start Thursday and presidential primary season is in full swing. Soon you should be receiving your Sample Ballot & Official Voter Information Pamphlet in the mail if you haven’t gotten it already (read our previous post about how they are compiled and sent).

For those registered with a political party, the way it works is pretty clear. In Iowa, they showed up to caucuses in their precinct for their party. In California, you’ll get a ballot for your party either at the polls or in the mail. But for those voters who chose not to affiliate with any political party, called Decline to State but also known as nonpartisan or independent, it’s a little more complicated.

So, Decline-to-Staters, read up.

Under California law, qualified political parties may choose to allow Decline-to-State voters to vote their primary ballot each time a primary election rolls around. For the Feb. 5 Presidential Primary, just the American Independent and Democratic parties opted to allow independents to vote their ballot. The Green, Libertarian, Peace and Freedom and Republican parties did not.

Back cover of Sample Ballot & Official Voter Information PamphletDecline-to-State voters have an important choice to make. And we’re asking those already signed up to Vote by Mail to aim to make their choice by the end of the day on Monday to make life a little easier on all of us.

We’ve heard from 459 Decline-to-Staters who’ve chosen a Democratic ballot and 21 who’ve chosen an American Independent.

Those who haven’t notified us by the end of the day Monday of their Vote by Mail ballot choice will automatically be mailed a nonpartisan ballot as part of the mass mailing of official ballots that begins the same day. Nonpartisan ballots, however, don’t contain primary candidates. Those ballots are awfully short, with just the state propositions. Not nearly as fun.

Under the law, nonpartisans actually have until the end of the day on Jan. 29 to make their Vote by Mail ballot choice known. But if they’ve already received a nonpartisan ballot, they’ll have to go through the extra step of spoiling their nonpartisan ballot first (don’t worry, we provide instructions). Regardless, it means more time expended and more paper wasted.

So don’t wait to take care of it.

In San Mateo County 23 percent – 80,352 – of registered voters are Decline to State. Of those, about 33 percent are signed up to Vote by Mail. It’s a group that continues to grow.

A few more things to note:

Decline-to-State voters who are signed up to Vote by Mail and want to vote a nonpartisan ballot for the primary don’t have to do anything. A nonpartisan ballot will just be sent.

Decline-to-State voters who want to vote a Green, Libertarian, Peace and Freedom or Republican ballot on Feb. 5 will have to give up their independent status and re-register to vote as a member of their new party of choice. The voter registration deadline is Jan. 22. Those parties chose not to allow nonpartisan voters to vote their presidential primary ballot, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Decline-to-State voters who vote at the polls on Election Day will inform a poll worker of their choice of ballot – American Independent, Democratic or nonpartisan – when they check in to vote. They don’t need to do anything now.

Decline-to-State voters who want to sign up to Vote by Mail can do so through Jan. 29 and choose their ballot. They can use the form on the back cover of their Sample Ballot (shown in the image above) or signup through our Web site.

Voters who were registered with a political party that is no longer qualified in California, such as the Natural Law Party or Reform Party – are also entitled to make the same choice as Decline-to-State voters, whether they Vote by Mail or at the polls.

We sent all affected voters a letter at the end of November that included a response form and postage paid-return envelope. Forms – which require an original signature – can also be obtained from the Elections Office during normal business hours at 40 Tower Road in San Mateo or 555 County Center in Redwood City. Because an original signature is required, the form can not be submitted online.

And, perhaps worth noting for some: Regardless of your choice for Feb. 5, your Decline-to-State status will remain unchanged on your voter registration file. But your choice of ballot does become public record.

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One response to “Decline to state? Important ballot choice to make

  1. Hi –
    you said that you’ve received 459 Decline-to-Staters who’ve chosen a Democratic ballot and 21 who’ve chosen an American Independent. But how many have you gotten back WITHOUT a party affiliation. I think it is so confusing !

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