Secretary of State William F. Galvin said Wednesday he was concerned about thousands of voters who he believes may have accidentally enrolled as members of a new party — the United Independent Party — thinking that they were registering as “unenrolled.”
Becoming an unenrolled voter, meaning a person who has no affiliation with a particular party, is often referred to as being an “independent.”
That’s where the confusion lies, Galvin says.
In Massachusetts, an unenrolled voter can vote in any primary — Democratic, Republican, and Green Rainbow Party are the possible choices this year. A member of the United Independent Party can only vote in that party’s primary, but the party isn’t having one.
Galvin said his concern was triggered by a “sudden influx” of people in the last few weeks who took to the state’s election website to register in time for the March 1 presidential primaries and clicked on the United Independent Party affiliation. He said they likely didn’t read their options closely and thought that they were registering as unenrolled.
“We have numerous e-mails from people specifically saying they did it in error, or were confused,” said Galvin in a telephone interview. “I understand if they saw the word ‘independent,’ and didn’t understand that there was the Independent Party.”
Wednesday was the final day for eligible voters to register for the upcoming state primary. It also marked the final day that voters could change their party status.
The United Independent Party won official status in Massachusetts in 2014 when Evan Falchuk, who was running for governor at the time, earned 3.3 percent of the vote.
Falchuk on Twitter this week reminded people to change their affiliation before the deadline Wednesday, if necessary, but also said there is “no evidence of ‘thousands’ having had this happen.”
“Overheated, unhelpful rhetoric,” he said on social media, apparently referring to Galvin’s statements.
Falchuk also said in a statement that he had worked with Galvin’s office to make sure voters knew what to do for the primaries but now Galvin is “playing politics.”
Galvin told the Globe it was “disingenuous” of Falchuk to suggest that people weren’t confused.
“I guess I’m confused now as to what Mr. Falchuk’s problem is,” he said.
Galvin said his office late last month mailed out 21,000 notices to people who are registered with Falchuk’s party to explain the possible mixup.
Galvin’s office also placed disclaimers on the state election website to steer people away from clicking on the wrong affiliation box, he said.
Galvin said around 5,500 people have changed their status from the United Independent Party to unenrolled since those notices went out.
A spokeswoman for the United Independent Party said some members were unenrolling from the party just to cast ballots in the primary and planned to rejoin the party as soon as they had voted.Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.