What Is a Closed Primary?

In a closed primary election, only registered members of a party may vote in a party's primary election. This requires a voter to declare a party affiliation before voting/before election day.

This differs from an open primary, which doesn't require voters to be officially affiliated with a particular party or lets a voter change his or her party affiliation before voting.

A semi-closed (sometimes called hybrid) primary allows unaffiliated voters to vote any way they wish. However, affiliated voters must vote with their party.

Allegiance to a Political Party Is Key

Above all, a closed primary calls for loyalty to a party. Unaffiliated voters cannot participate.

At least one party in 14 states has closed primaries for congressional and state-level elections. The states with closed primaries are:

  • Alabama
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota

That number can rise or fall depending on the election at hand. For instance, 27 states had closed primaries during the last presidential campaign.

Pros and Cons to Closed Primaries

Voters opposed to closed primaries usually point to the fact that it can keep the voice of independent voters out of the process.

Those who favor closed primaries counter that such elections prevent "raiding," or voting for the weakest candidate from the opposing party. This tactic is a bit of engineering designed to make the path to the general election easier for one's own party.

They also say that it helps build cohesion within the party, since nobody is able to cast any such "rogue" votes.

While states with closed primaries are in the minority, accentuating party loyalty is still a popular method in some parts of the country.

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