Calif. Independents Barred from GOP Primary More than half the states with presidential races on Feb. 5 allow independent voters to participate. In California, however, independents can vote in the Democratic primary, but not in the Republican contest. Some Republicans think their party is making a mistake.
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Calif. Independents Barred from GOP Primary

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Calif. Independents Barred from GOP Primary

Calif. Independents Barred from GOP Primary

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

NPR'S Ina Jaffe has that story.

INA JAFFE: Nearly one-fifth of California voters have no party affiliation. They're called decline-to-state voters. And here's what we know about them. They tend to be younger than partisan voters and a bit better educated. A study from the Public Policy Institute of California also finds that they're generally liberal on social and environmental issues, but fiscally conservative. They sound a lot like 27-year-old graduate student Megan Rawlins of Menlo Park.

MEGAN RAWLINS: My mother's a Democrat and my father's a Republican and during all of the political discussions that I have participated in, I had a very difficult time fully agreeing with either side.

JAFFE: Like many independents these days, Rawlins say she leans Democratic. But she has no particular preference among the Democratic presidential candidates. She likes them all. What worries her is the Democrats might lose in November. That's why she wanted to hedge her bets and help pick the Republican nominee.

RAWLINS: Among the Republicans, I have much stronger opinion. I don't think that they can all do a good job. So it was more important for me to put my say, my vote in that arena.

JAFFE: But independents like Rawlins are not allowed to vote in California's Republican presidential primary, explained state party chairman Ron Neering.

RON NEERING: That's why we wanted to encourage everyone to register as a Republican and join our party so that they can vote in the primary and help us nominate the next president of the United States.

JAFFE: California Democrats have a different philosophy and allow decline-to- state voters to help choose the Democratic nominee. And with good reason, says party chairman Art Torres.

ART TORRES: Because usually when you invite decline-to-state voters to vote in our primary, they end up voting for our Democratic nominee in November.

JAFFE: Republicans and Democrats have made different decisions about independent voters partly because they have different ways of awarding delegates. The Democrats do it by a candidate's statewide percentage of the vote. Republicans, on the other hand, apportion delegates by congressional district. Jack Pitney, government professor at Claremont McKenna College, says Republicans are afraid that in districts with relatively few GOP voters the independents might engage in so-called mischief voting.

JACK PITNEY: They might vote maliciously to support the weaker candidate and thereby control the general election outcome.

JAFFE: However...

PITNEY: There is very little evidence for mischief voting. For the most part, ordinary voters just don't decide that way.

JAFFE: Before he was a professor, Pitney worked for the Republican National Committee and the GOP congressional caucus. And he thinks that barring independent voters from California's Republican presidential primary could be damaging to the party in the long run.

PITNEY: In California, Republicans have been in bad times lately. They have very week position in statewide office, the state legislature. And they have to find some way to get more people into the tent otherwise they're going to be a permanent minority.

JAFFE: So it should be good news for the California GOP that decline-to-state voter Megan Rawlins took the trouble to change her registration just so she could vote for a Republican in the primary.

RAWLINS: But as soon as the primary is over, I will re-register and go back to being a decline-to-state voter.

JAFFE: Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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