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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

California Democratic race could hinge on ‘open’ primary rules

Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign event on

Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign event on May 26, 2016, in San Francisco before California's presidential primary on June 7. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

The last big contest of the primary season wraps up next week in California, where polls suggest Sen. Bernie Sanders runs about even against Hillary Clinton in a Democratic primary.

Clinton has won four of the five most populous states. She drew 65 percent in Texas, 65 percent in Florida, 58 percent in New York and 51 percent in Illinois.

Now comes the biggest of battlefields, with 546 Golden State delegates in play — and Clinton and Sanders still wrestling over the 2,383 total needed to lock up the nomination.

Because this race looks tight, some of the upcoming news coverage will feature the Sanders campaign’s challenges in seeking to turn out its California fans.

Some of the procedural issues vexing Sanders backers in that state may strike New Yorkers as oddly familiar.

Out there, an entity called the American Independent Party runs candidates on local ballots. According to a Los Angeles Times survey, most state residents don’t realize this is a far-right political party.

Voters who may have signed up as Independents — purposely or not — can’t vote for either Democrat in the primary.

“Independents.” Hmmm. Sound familiar?

Around here, every year, people who believed they were unaffiliated with any party discover that at some point they’d actually signed up with the Independence Party.

For last month’s “closed” primary in New York, the distinction didn’t matter. Whether you were truly unaffiliated with a party or you were an Independence member, you couldn’t vote in the Democratic or Republican primaries.

But in California, the distinction between Independent and unaffiliated could make a significant difference.

That state has a unique, modified “open primary” season — which allows unaffiliated voters to participate in major-party primaries.

Those unaffiliated voters, however, need to specifically request Democratic presidential ballots if they wish to vote in the primary. Only about 14 percent of mail-in voters, however, had made such requests last week, U.S. News reported.

New York had its own problems last month. In both big states, expanding voter participation in a presidential year proves to be less than a simple chore.

Endorsements by the Democratic mayors of the biggest cities in New York and California took a similar tone.

Last month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio supported Clinton, for whom he was once the Senate campaign manager. But he also took pains early to say he believed Sanders had a right to run his campaign up until the July convention.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has also backed Clinton while keeping his comments on Sanders upbeat. As expected, both de Blasio and Garcetti attacked the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump.

Also slated for Tuesday, June 7, while Californians go to the polls are lesser contests in New Jersey, New Mexico, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, with a combined total of 264 delegates at stake.

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