New polls show that the Democratic primary in California is neck and neck between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. If the election is close, and Hillary narrowly wins, it could be because arcane and suspect rules gave her an artificial advantage. A Hillary win would rob Sanders of the ability to claim momentum and would blunt his efforts to fight for the nomination up until the Democratic convention. California has made such a royal mess of its entire primary system that it needs to do a complete overhaul to restore the credibility of the system.

Start with California’s overly generous early-voting law, which allows people to cast ballots a full four weeks before Election Day. Last week, the Field Poll found that 23 percent of people it interviewed had already voted early or by mail. Clinton led Sanders by nine percentage points among those voters. Of the remaining 77 percent of voters, Sanders led by a single percentage point. Almost all of the early voters who were interviewed by Field had filled out their ballots before the State Department’s inspector general issued a report savaging Hillary Clinton for her exclusive use of a private e-mail server, which broke the rules associated with the Federal Records Act. “Voters shouldn’t vote too early, when events and debates can still shape the race,” says Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News in San Francisco. “It’s like having jurors in a court case vote and leave the courtroom before all the evidence is presented.”

Then there is the issue of how California’s 2.2 million registered nonpartisan voters are treated (the term used for them is “Decline to State”). Republicans exclude them from their presidential primary, but at least they’re honest about it. Democrats require nonpartisan voters to specifically request a Democratic ballot in order to receive one in the mail with the names of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on it. Voters at the polls on Election Day must specifically ask for a Democratic ballot, and they won’t be given another one if they start marking a nonpartisan one by mistake. These hoops may have real consequences. Hillary Clinton leads among registered Democrats by nine points in the latest Field Poll. But she trailed Sanders by an astonishing ratio of 2 to 1 among independent voters. An early exit poll conducted by Capitol Weekly found that 60 percent of nonpartisan voters either thought they would automatically receive a Democratic ballot or didn’t understand the process. Indeed, an analysis of the 322,000 nonpartisan mail ballots turned in by last Thursday show that only 40 percent of them even cast a vote for president.

“This is the mind-boggling, biggest story,” Michael Trujillo, a Democratic consultant who served as Clinton’s field director in 2008, told CBS News last week. “If Bernie Sanders comes up short, you can literally count the number of ballots from people who wanted to vote for him but just didn’t take the extra step.”

Originally published in the National Review. To read the rest of the article, please go here.