Primary Elections

Our politics are defined by elections. One day in November can shift the entire direction of the country. And when citizens go to the polls on Election Day, the candidate field has already been narrowed to usually just two choices — through primary elections. But how does the final field of candidates develop and how are primaries run? The answer: It depends on the state and the party.

Open primaries are one way to ensure voices from all over the spectrum are heard when candidates are selected. All too often, primary elections close out moderate and independent voters. Read on to learn about each type of primary and find out how your state selects its candidates.

What is an Open Primary?
Any voter may vote in either party’s primary. Some states require voters to declare a party preference, but allow these preferences to be changed at the polling place.

What is a Semi-Closed Primary?
Party-affiliated voters can vote only in their own party’s primary, but non-partisan voters may choose to vote in either primary. Party-affiliated voters must change their party preference weeks or months in advance to participate in the other party’s primary.

What is a Closed Primary?
Only party-affiliated voters can vote in a given party’s primary. Nonpartisan voters cannot participate. Party-affiliated voters must change their party preference weeks or months in advance to participate in the other party’s primary.

What is a “Top Two” Primary?
All candidates of all parties are listed on one ballot available to all voters. The two candidates receiving the most votes, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the general election.

NOTE: “Binding Affiliation” in a closed primary indicates that a non-partisan voter may choose a party preference on election day, but that for the next election cycle, the voter will be affiliated with that party unless he or she disaffiliates or changes affiliation in accordance with the state’s deadline.

UPDATED: 07/24/12

Join us

Stay up to date.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Share: