St. Pierre said she registered to vote as soon as she turned 18.
“I have an obligation to speak my mind through a vote,” said Allison St. Pierre of Rocky Hill.
She's one of 30,000 members of Connecticut’s Independent Party.
NBC Connecticut News asked her what she thought the Independent Party stood for.
“I’ve never really thought about that. Just freedom to choose,” she answered.
Marilyn Melendez also counts herself among Connecticut’s independent voters.
“It’s important for me to see both sides,” said Melendez of Newington.
Melendez and St. Pierre both told us they didn’t want to be in any political party. However, the opposite happened when they registered to vote as independents.
“You can check Republican, Democratic, or other and many people will write in independent meaning they want to be unaffiliated, but when they put the word independent in we put them into the Independent Party,” explained Connecticut’s Secretary of the State, Denise Merrill.
Instead, Merrill said voters who don’t want to be affiliated with a party should check the box on the registration form that says “no.”
“I was not aware of that at all,” said Melendez.
“I did not know that,” added St. Pierre.
College student Leander Vergara recently registered for the first time as an independent.
“I don’t personally agree with both sides. I think there’s too much polarization in our country right now and I think independent allows to me to get out of those two really distinct bubbles,” he said when asked why he chose to register as an independent.
Vergara said he didn’t know what it meant to be an unaffiliated voter. Like Melendez and St. Pierre, he was surprised to learn the consequences of writing in the word “independent” on his voter registration card.
“I guess the ideals that I have or that I chose being an independent voter for isn’t necessarily what it actually is,” said Vergara.
“I think it’s very telling that 30,000 of the 35,000 people registered in third parties are in this one party,” said Merrill of the confusion. “We very much suspect that many of the people that register for the Independent Party don’t realize that they’re registering with a party.”
The Independent Party often has a line on the ballot and can actually cross-endorse candidates nominated by the major political parties to get them extra votes, a power that’s led to battles in the court system.
“There’s basically two factions of people that are fighting for control of the Independent Party. One is located in Danbury and one in Waterbury and that’s been going on for probably 10 years now, because under our statues it’s very difficult to determine whose actually in charge of the party right now,” Merrill explained.
Merrill said a spelling error has also created another issue for the Independent Party. Learn more in the video below.
For the upcoming Presidential Primary on April 28, the deadline to register to vote in person if you are an unaffiliated voter is the day before the election, and April 23 if you’re registering online or by mail.
However, if you are a member of a party, including the Independent Party, you must change your party affiliation to Republican or Democrat by January 28.
“It’s a three-month window if you’re registered in a separate party where as you can go right up almost to the last minute and change your affiliation if you’re unaffiliated,” said Merrill.
Merrill said the confusion often leads to tension on Primary Day.
“A lot of people show up thinking that they’re able to vote and they’re not because they filled in the word ‘independent,’ said Merrill. “That’s where we get the angry people.”
“I’m in total shock. I wish they would explain that more when you’re going to fill out the paperwork. It’s not as clear as you would want it to be,” Melendez added.