What Is an Open Primary?

The open primary system offers flexibility to the voters to support candidates across party lines.

An open primary allows all registered voters to pick a candidate from any political party. To take part in this election, the voter does not need political affiliation. 

What Are the Types of Primary Election?

A party's primary election can happen in three forms: open primary, closed primary, and semi-closed or mixed primary.

In open primary election, any registered voter can pick candidates from any political party. It allows votes from eligible voters even if they aren't registered with that party or changing their party affiliation.

Closed primary elections limit participation to registered voters affiliated with a particular party. The election for a closed primary is more restricted as voters declared to be party members are the only ones who can vote.

The semi-closed primary or mixed primary is the middle ground. Here, independent voters or unaffiliated voters can take part in the primary election of any political party they choose. Meanwhile, voters with political affiliation can only take part in their political party's primary election.

States With Open Primaries

The following states allow open primaries for at least one political party:

  1. Alabama
  2. Arkansas
  3. Georgia
  4. Hawaii
  5. Illinois
  6. Indiana
  7. Iowa
  8. Michigan
  9. Minnesota
  10. Mississippi
  11. Missouri
  12. Montana
  13. North Dakota
  14. Ohio
  15. South Carolina
  16. Tennessee
  17. Texas
  18. Vermont
  19. Virginia
  20. Wisconsin

States like California, Washington, and Nebraska use "top-two primary systems." This means the candidates who gained the top two vote tallies advance to the general election. This is regardless of their party affiliation.

Alaska uses the "top-four primary system." Here, the candidates that earned the top four vote tallies advance to the general election. It is regardless of their party affiliation.

States With Closed Primaries

The following states have closed primaries for at least one political party:

  1. Connecticut
  2. Delaware
  3. Florida
  4. Kentucky
  5. Maryland
  6. Nevada
  7. Oklahoma (closed for Republican and Libertarian parties)
  8. Oregon
  9. Pennsylvania
  10. South Dakota (closed for Republican, Libertarian, and Constitution parties)
  11. Utah (closed for Republican Party)
  12. Washington, D.C.
  13. Wyoming

States With Semi-Closed Primaries

The following states have semi-closed primaries for at least one political party.

  1. Arizona
  2. Colorado
  3. Idaho
  4. Kansas
  5. Massachusetts
  6. New Hampshire
  7. New Jersey
  8. New York (for Reform Party)
  9. North Carolina
  10. Oklahoma (semi-closed for Democratic Party)
  11. Rhode Island
  12. South Dakota (semi-closed for Democratic Party)
  13. Utah (semi-closed for Democratic Party)
  14. West Virginia

How Presidential Primaries Work

Primary elections are often done six to nine months before the presidential election. The state's registered voters pick their preferred presidential candidate through secret ballots. The state considers the primary election's result when awarding delegates to the candidates.

Political parties and state officials often use different means when deciding on the number of delegates they will award to the candidate. A candidate often has to win a majority of delegates to become a presidential nominee. But, if no candidate earned the majority of party delegates during the primary election, a contested convention may happen. At this event, negotiation and realignment among the delegates happens to come up with the party's final presidential nominee.

Pros and Cons of Open Primaries

Open primaries share roots with primary elections in general. Rather than allowing party caucuses to name a presidential nominee, progressive reformers of the early 20th century:

  • Pushed to give voters more say over a party's nominee via primary elections
  • Later, it gave voters more say in open primaries

One advantage of open primaries is that they discourage partisan "gridlock," in which voters are forever tied to their registered party. Open primaries can also serve the purpose of:

  • Enticing voters to the polls who aren't registered with any party
  • Widening the field of prospective nominees within the party

Opponents of open primaries say they leave the possibility of "crossover" voting open. In other words, a registered Republican in a state that allows open primaries might cast a primary vote for the most conservative Democratic candidate. This can skew the party's nomination process.

That happened in the 2008 New Hampshire presidential primary election, in which Mitt Romney won among registered Republicans, but John McCain won the primary.

Legal Support for Voters in Primary Elections

Understanding can be challenging because of the diverse rules in every state. Also, different types of primary elections add more complexity to the election process. If you believe someone compromised your ability to vote in the primary election, it is important to know your legal options. Contact a civil rights attorney near you. They can protect your rights and provide the guidance and support you need as you take part in your primary election.

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