What Is a Closed Primary?

There are two main types of primary elections — open and closed. The type of elections you'll vote in depends on where you live. If you live in Oregon, you'll take part in a closed primary election. If you live in Alabama, you would vote in an open primary.

In a closed primary, only people registered with the party can vote in a party's primary election. For example, if you're a Democrat, you can only vote in a Democratic primary. If you're a Republican, you can only vote in a Republican primary.

To vote in a closed primary, voters must declare a party affiliation before election day.

With an open primary, you don't have to affiliate with a particular party to vote.

There are also semi-closed primaries. In these elections, unaffiliated voters can vote any way they wish.

Allegiance to a Political Party Is Key

Voter registration is critical in a closed primary. These elections call for loyalty to a political party. Unaffiliated voters cannot take part.

As of 2024, 12 states hold closed primaries for congressional and state-level elections. The states with closed primaries are:

  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Wyoming

The interesting thing about closed primaries is that the number of states holding them can vary yearly. For example, the Democratic party may have a closed primary one year and an open or semi-closed primary the next.

Pros and Cons of Closed Primaries

There are benefits and drawbacks to having a closed primary. Registered voters may complain that closed primaries ignore the voice of independent voters. If only people registered with the Republican party can take part in an election, people who identify as independents have no say. This is the case with presidential primaries or local elections.

People who favor closed primaries argue that they prevent "raiding." Raiding is when people intentionally vote for the weakest candidate from the opposing party. They hope this will make winning the general election ballot easier for their party's candidate.

Most major political parties prefer open primaries. But, all partisan primaries attempt to promote party loyalty.

Make Sure You Are Registered to Vote in Your Jurisdiction

Most people register to vote when they first get their driver's license. But this isn't always the case. The first thing you must do is submit your voter registration application. This form will ask you which party you wish to register with.

When you register to vote, you also have the option to affiliate with no party. You can identify as an independent. This gives you the chance to vote in open primaries. But you won't be able to vote in a closed primary state.

If you wish to change your party affiliation, you can contact your local registration office. If you aren't sure where this is, go online and search for the voter registration office in your county.

How Can You Tell Which Type of Primary You're Voting In?

It's important to understand the voting process in your jurisdiction. This is especially true for presidential elections. When you go to the polling place, you must know whether they'll let you vote. You don't want to show up and have the volunteers turn you away. Is your state listed above as a closed-primary state? If not, look up your state's voting information to find out if your state is an open or semi-closed primary state.

You Don't Have To Solve This on Your Own; Get a Lawyer's Help

Meeting with a civil rights lawyer can help you understand how to protect your voting rights.

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