Foon Rhee

The Numbers Crunch: More the merrier for California’s minor political parties

Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan ran for California governor as the Peace and Freedom Party’s candidate in 2014.
Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan ran for California governor as the Peace and Freedom Party’s candidate in 2014. Associated Press file

The big takeaways from the latest California voter registration numbers are the continuing decline of the Republican Party (down below 28 percent) and the rise of voters unaffiliated with any party (up to 24 percent).

But as a political junkie, I was also intrigued by the slight uptick in voters who claim membership in minor parties.

The four that have qualified for the June primary ballot – American Independent, Green, Libertarian, and Peace and Freedom – count nearly 771,000 voters. That’s about 4.5 percent of the statewide total, up from 4.1 percent registered with qualified minor parties in 2012. So much for the dire warnings that the top-two primary system – which started in June 2012 and under which the two leading vote-getters regardless of party move on to November – would kill minor parties.

When you include Californians who ally themselves with parties that haven’t qualified to put candidates on the statewide ballot, parties that aren’t even trying and those that may not even exist, the statewide total for these “other” voters is 912,000, or about 5 percent. While not a huge chunk of the overall electorate, it’s still up by 220,000 from 2008.

Each of the qualified minor parties has areas of strength.

The Peace and Freedom Party’s biggest share of voters is in Sacramento County, at about 0.8 percent, and also does well in Los Angeles and Mendocino counties. Debra Reiger, its state and Sacramento leader, says her party has an unusually large central committee in Sacramento and that committee members are active in social justice groups.

Billing itself as California’s feminist and socialist party, it calls for doubling the minimum wage, reducing the workweek to 30 hours, and providing free health care and free education from preschool through graduate studies. It also supports dismantling the Department of Homeland Security and eliminating U.S. nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

The Libertarian Party does best in Placer, Calaveras and Sierra counties. The environmentalist Green Party has its highest shares in Mendocino, Humboldt and Nevada counties.

The American Independent Party, which ran segregationist George Wallace for president in 1968, has its highest share of registered voters – more than 5 percent – in Sierra, Lassen and Trinity counties. Election expert Paul Mitchell, however, believes that many voters signed up with this party by mistake when they were trying to register as unaffiliated.

There are seven even less popular parties struggling to sign up enough voters to even make the ballot. They count 435 voters – yes, that’s the total for all seven – when 57,000 were needed to qualify for June.

The Transhumanist Party can only claim two members, but that’s better than the UCES’ (United Collective Exchange and Services) Clowns Party, which has only one. After talking by phone with David Fluhart, the man behind it, I confess I’m not exactly clear what his deal is.

Fluhart, who lives in Kern County and said he was a 45-year-old former teacher, said with all our problems, they can’t be fixed the “right way” so it has to be done the “wrong way.”

And why clowns? “You have to bring some humor to it.”

Isn’t democracy grand?

By the numbers

Percentages of registered voters in selected counties affiliated with the two major parties, affiliated with the four minor parties on June ballot and unaffiliated:

  • El Dorado: 29% Dem., 43% Rep., 6.5% minor, 22% unaffiliated
  • Fresno: 39% Dem., 37% Rep., 3.9% minor, 19% unaffiliated
  • Los Angeles: 50% Dem., 20% Rep., 4.1% minor, 25% unaffiliated
  • Merced: 41% Dem., 32% Rep., 4.7% minor, 22% unaffiliated
  • Placer: 27% Dem., 45% Rep., 4.8% minor, 22% unaffiliated
  • Sacramento: 43% Dem., 30% Rep., 5.2% minor, 22% unaffiliated
  • San Diego: 35% Dem., 33% Rep., 5.0% minor, 27% unaffiliated
  • San Francisco: 55% Dem., 8% Rep., 4.2% minor, 32% unaffiliated
  • San Joaquin: 42% Dem., 34% Rep., 3.9% minor parties, 20% unaffiliated
  • Yolo: 47% Dem., 23% Rep., 5.0% minor, 25% unaffiliated

Source: California Secretary of State