Leaders of a small political party trying to gain traction in the state say they're frustrated by comments made by Secretary of State William Galvin that thousands of voters may have accidentally registered with their party.
Galvin, a Democrat, told WBUR on Tuesday that as many as 20,000 state voters enrolled with the United Independent Party — which was started by 2014 gubernatorial candidate Evan Falchuk — may have intended to register as unenrolled voters but were confused by the party's use of the word "independent" in their name.
A spokesman for the office said Wednesday that the number of voters who made the registration error is likely less than the secretary's top figure — but added that officials could not be certain.
"It is likely to be less [than 20,000 voters], but whether it is far less or not, there’s no way of telling,” spokesman Brian McNiff told WBUR.
UIP membership grew from 1,867 last February to roughly 21,000 by the end of 2015, McNiff said.
McNiff said numerous emails and calls to the office's elections division from people claiming they had mistakenly registered with the UIP had prompted the office to send out a notice to all UIP members, as well as craft a statement on the voter registration form further clarifying that those enrolled with the party would not be able to vote in the state's Democratic or Republican primaries.
(If you’re registered as an unenrolled voter, you can choose which party ballot to pull on primary day. But if you’re registered with a specific party, you can only vote in that party’s primary. There is no candidate running for president this year from the United Independent Party.)
UIP Field Director James Conway attributes the spike in registration in 2015 to UIP's heavy recruitment efforts, as well as increased enrollment the group saw during its campaign against a taxpayer-funded Olympics in Boston. McNiff also said he was aware of heavy recruitment efforts by the party throughout the year.
Conway said he believes the majority of party members are not registered in error. He says UIP has been consistently registering about 2,000 new members a month.
"Obviously, there is always the possibility of somebody doing that," Conway told WBUR. "I think it's very low, if at all."
UIP leaders say the party has spent months telling its members to temporarily unenroll if they want to be able to vote in the state's March 1 presidential primaries.
Regan Cleminson, UIP’s deputy director of communications, said Wednesday she had heard from a number of registered members who planned to do just that.
By state law, the party estimates it would need to have about 43,000 registered members to maintain the party's ability to place a candidate on the ballot after 2016.