California Voters Keep Accidentally Joining George Wallace’s Zombie Political Party

Does the famous right-wing demagogue George C. Wallace attract the allegiance of a half-million California voters a half-century later? Nah. Photo: Howard Sochurek/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty

One of the stranger moments in the 2016 Democratic primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders was when an awful lot of self-identified independents discovered they could not participate in the Democratic presidential primary because they had registered as members of the American Independent Party. An April 2016 Los Angeles Times report showing that a vast number of indies who should have been registering as “No Party Preference” voters were instead signing up for the AIP alerted some to their mistake in time to correct it, but many did not. And it certainly did not help the Sanders campaign, which was counting on indie votes.

Now the L.A. Times is back with another report on the AIP, and it seems the word still hasn’t gotten around. AIP registrants now top a half-million voters, up from 2016.

Then as now, it’s clear most if not all of these people think they are registering as independents when they are actually joining a zombie political party founded just over a half-century ago as the political vehicle of right-wing anti-civil-rights demagogue George C. Wallace. It has clung to ballot status (except for a brief hiatus in the early ’70s) ever since, more than likely because of the “independent” in its name. But that aside, it’s not like the AIP is flying under a false flag. Its “manifesto” features lines like this:

The American Independent Party is the party of ordered liberty in a nation under God. We believe in strict adherence to written law. We believe the Constitution is the contract America has with itself. Its willful distortion has led to the violation of our Tenth Amendment guaranteed right to limited government – which inevitably requires oppressive taxation. Its faithful application will lift that burden.

Freed from the lawless oppression of Progressive rule, we may then compassionately and justly use our energy and ingenuity to provide for ourselves and our families. We will then establish truly free and responsible enterprise and reassert the basic human right to property.

Not a lot there for Bernie Sanders supporters, or indeed, for anyone likely to vote in a Democratic primary between now and the end of time, and that’s before you get to the “absolute” view of the Second Amendment and the immigrant-bashing.

In case you are wondering if this continuing phenomenon is freaking out candidates and parties this year, the answer is no. Thanks to California’s Top Two primary system, there are no longer party primaries at the state level from which registered voters of other parties can be barred. It matters only in presidential primaries, which still maintain their exclusivity (“No Party Preference” voters can vote in Democratic presidential candidates in California. Those registered with actual parties can’t). So it will next really matter again in 2020. At that point, if there’s a 20-candidate presidential field and Sanders or somebody else is counting on indies to get them across the line in California, they’d better start getting the word on about the AIP pretty soon.

As it happens, AIP isn’t the only certified California political party that seems like a refugee from the 1960s. The Peace and Freedom Party, which calls itself “California’s feminist socialist party,” has also been around since the 1968 election, when it ran Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver for president. It only has 78,000 registrants at present. Maybe “Peace and Freedom” just aren’t as attractive these days as “Independent.”

CA Indie Voters Keep Joining George Wallace’s Zombie Party