That time I realized I was registered to vote with the wrong party

One confused Times staffer. (Steve Saldivar / Los Angeles Times)
One confused Times staffer. (Steve Saldivar / Los Angeles Times)

I learned in a meeting two months ago that one of the fastest growing political parties in California might have human error to thank for the achievement. The American Independent Party dates back to George Wallace’s presidential campaign, and as my colleagues at the L.A. Times discovered, comprises many people who mistakenly thought they were registering as independents.

Don’t people do their homework?

I’ve personally never felt any allegiance to one, single party. When I registered to vote as an out-of-state Californian going to school in Washington, D.C., my decision was a no-brainer. I sat in my college dorm room, and with the click of a button officially declared myself an independent — a non-label-label that I, the daughter of a Republican and a Democrat, prided myself on.

Two presidential elections later, that label is what I maintained as my political identity.

But as we worked on this project, and as I learned how many people were confused when they signed up, I started to think more about the American Independent Party. Could I have made the same mistake so many others had? No way. Definitely not. I’m a journalist, for crying out loud. It’s my job to know the facts. As my colleagues yammered on during our next meeting, paranoia set in and I discreetly checked my voter registration.

Have you ever had an existential crisis? It goes something like this:

Who are you?

Do you know NOTHING?


It’s possible that “The Sound of Silence” played in the distance as my mind imploded. But I can’t say for sure.

Shalby wishes she could travel back in time. (Steve Saldivar / Los Angeles Times)
Shalby wishes she could travel back in time. (Steve Saldivar / Los Angeles Times)

All I know is that I wasn’t an independent voter after all.

In times like these, it’s helpful to learn you’re not alone. I found out I was in the same company as celebrities like Demi Moore and Emma Stone.

Sure, but they aren’t journalists who should know better.

Turns out another Times colleague, Mark Potts, learned that he’d made the same blunder. He reacted similarly.

“I’ve had issues coming to terms with these revelations. Have I been living a lie these past five years? What have I been doing? What do I believe? Can I believe whatever I want? Since I’ve been a member of AIP, have I been believing what they believe? What do they believe?”

I imagined myself traveling through time to stop 19-year-old Colleen (yes, I waited until the 2008 election to register) from checking the wrong box. I could have saved myself years of unknowing self-dupe.

And then we stumbled on Hailey Browning.

The 21-year-old junior at San Francisco State had registered to vote in 2012, just before the election between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Her beliefs fell somewhere in the middle between Republican and Democrat, and for that reason, she decided to be an independent.

Or so she thought.

Catch up on The Times Investigation into how the AIP became California's largest third party

Post-revelation, Browning has re-registered as a true independent — which in California is called having “no party preference.” Browning doesn’t know who she’ll end up voting for in the next election. But she knows the decision will be hers entirely.

“When it was 2012, I was only 18. I was still living with my parents. I hadn’t lived on my own yet. Now that I’ve been an adult for a few extra years, I’ve learned more about myself.”

I honestly have never thought about my right to vote as much as I have in these past few weeks. My discovery, though a bit unsettling, has been a good reminder that debate soundbites and campaign headlines only tell part of the election story. The rest is personal.

Page design and production by Lily Mihalik and Ben Welsh.