Imagine you're registering to vote. You're fed up with the Republicans and Democrats, so you scan the form for the word “independent” and check the box.
Congratulations, you're now a member of the American Independent Party, California's fastest-growing affiliation. Politically, you're somewhere to the right of the Tea Party – pro-gun, pro-God, anti-gay and anti-immigration.
Now, however, a Sacramento data wonk is attempting to destroy the AIP by launching a campaign to inform its members of their party's beliefs.
Paul Mitchell is vice president at Political Data Inc., which provides voter rolls and election data to California political campaigns. He sees the AIP's swelling membership as a data glitch. In his view, 95 percent of the party's 470,000 statewide members have registered with the party by mistake.
More than a quarter of members are non-white – which is strange for a party that has roots in George Wallace's segregationist presidential campaign. More than 10% are foreign-born – again, unusual, given the party's hostility to immigration.
“It's reaching half a million voters,” Mitchell says. “It's crazy. At what point do we figure out something to do?”
Mitchell and some friends cooked up a plan to send a mass email to 220,000 AIP voters on April Fool's Day. (The campaign slogan is “Don't be AIPrl Fooled.”) The email will include links to the party's platform and information on how re-register. (The official term for an independent voter is “no party preference.”)
So how does the AIP feel about this?
Markham Robinson is the chair of the party's executive committee. He maintains that AIP members actually do understand and support the party's beliefs, and are not registering by accident. He also believes that Mitchell's campaign will backfire, insofar as it brings new attention to the AIP.
“We would probably like to enhance his email list with our own,” Robinson said. “Nothing could rain on his parade more than our smiling indulgence.”
As for the party's political views, Robinson says that the party believes in God and the Constitution – God is mentioned 18 times in the platform.
“We share all the Tea Party principles and go way beyond them,” he said. “We go along with the Declaration of Independence. That makes us radicals, doesn't it?”
Update: Mark Vargas, a veteran political hand who is officially the “founder” of the AIPrl Fooled campaign, clarifies that he has no quarrel with people who actually want to be members of the AIP.
“[Robinson] is absolutely entitled to have his ideology,” Vargas said. “Nothing that we're doing is trying to denigrate that. All we're doing is educating people.”