A new type of nematic liquid crystal (NLC) based polarization independent 1 X 2 optical switch is demonstrated. Experiments show that this system is capable of converting any arbitrary input polarization into a horizontal or vertical output of high polarization extinction ratio (> 26 dB). Moreover, a basic polarization independent alignment tolerant 1 X 2 optical switch is proposed and demonstrated, comprising a NLC-based polarization controller in cascade with half wave plates. Experiments show that this system is capable of realizing a high switch contrast (> 27 dB), nearly independent on the input polarization. The measured polarization extinction ratio of the output light was about 40 dB. Our NLC-based polarization control provides low driving voltages (< 5 V), no moving parts, high performance and possible low insertion loss.