Capitol Alert

Confused by California’s presidential primary? Here’s how to vote

A contested Democratic presidential primary is confusing and frustrating some voters who, because they are registered without a party preference, must take some extra steps to cast presidential ballots.

Here’s a rundown of what you must do between now and the June 7 primary to make your voice heard.

Q: Wait a second. I thought California had open primaries.

A: That’s only true for state and congressional races. In primary elections for state Legislature or governor, for instance, you can vote for a candidate of any party no matter how you’re registered to vote.

But the rules for presidential contests are different. The Republican Party allows only registered Republicans to vote for presidential candidates. The Democratic Party opens its contest to voters without a party preference, as do the Libertarian Party and the American Independent Party.

Q: OK. But if I’m registered without a party preference, I can still vote for Hillary or Bernie?

A: Yes. When you arrive at your polling place on June 7, simply ask for a Democratic presidential ballot.

You can also request and receive a ballot by visiting your county elections office between now and the election. All county registrar offices serve as early voting sites within 29 days of an election. Sacramento County’s is located at 7000 65th St.

If you’ve already mailed in your filled-out state ballot, it’s too late to request a presidential ballot. You can’t cast another one. Doing so would be considered fraud.

Q: What if I want to vote by mail?

A: This gets a little more complicated. Voters who have no party preference and requested mail ballots receive postcards from their local elections officials. If those voters wanted to get a mail ballot with the Democratic presidential candidates, they needed to fill out and return the postcard requesting one.

If you missed that postcard but still want to get a Democratic presidential ballot mailed to you, you must either visit your county registrar or write them asking for one. If you plan to write, they must have your request by Tuesday. It can’t happen over the phone because they need your signature. You must include your name and address. You can use this form:

If you live in Sacramento County, you can fax your request to 916-854-9796 or, to be sent a form, call 916-875-6155.

Sacramento County is also launching some weekend voter service centers where you can get a ballot in person before Election Day. Four centers will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. the next two Saturdays and from noon to 5 p.m. the next two Sundays, and they are located at: Carmichael Library, the Central Library in Sacramento, the Elk Grove City Council Chambers and the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Office.

Q: Did the Democratic Party do this to screw Bernie Sanders?

A: No. The rules flow out of a court fight settled in 2000. A follow-up California law allowed no-party-preference voters to take part in a primary if the overseeing political party permits it.

Every presidential cycle since 2004, the California Democratic Party’s leadership has voted to authorize no-party-preference voters – a growing segment of the voting population – to participate, including for 2016.

Q: I’m a Republican. Can I vote for a Democrat?

A: No, sorry. You would have had to switch your registration, but the deadline to do so for the primary was May 23. The Green Party and the Peace & Freedom Party also restrict primaries to party registrants.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert