By the end of this section, you should be able to:
- Compare and contrast open and closed primary systems
States are responsible for running elections. Each state may opt to use a variety of primary election systems. This section discusses Texas’ primary elections.
Types of Primary Elections
Among the fifty states, there are several different types of primary elections:
Closed primary. People may vote in a party’s primary only if they are registered members of that party prior to election day. Independents cannot participate. Note that because some political parties name themselves independent, the terms “non- partisan” or “unaﬃliated” often replace “independent” when referring to those who are not aﬃliated with a political party. Eleven states – Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, District of Columbia, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming – have closed primaries.
Semi-closed. As in closed primaries, registered party members can vote only in their own party’s primary. Semi-closed systems, however, allow unaﬃliated voters to participate as well. Depending on the state, independents either make their choice of party primary privately, inside the voting booth, or publicly, by registering with any party on Election Day. Thirteen states – Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, and West Virginia – have semi-closed primaries that allow voters to register or change party preference on election day.
Open Primary. An open primary is a primary election in which any registered voter can participate in the contest, regardless of party aﬃliation. A registered voter may vote in any party primary regardless of his or her own party aﬃliation. Eleven states – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin – have open primaries. When voters do not register with a party before the primary, it is called a pick-a-party primary because the voter can select which party’s primary he or she wishes to vote in on election day. Because of the open nature of this system, a practice known as raiding may occur. Raiding consists of voters of one party crossing over and voting in the primary of another party, eﬀectively allowing a party to help choose its opposition’s candidate. The theory is that opposing party members vote for the weakest
candidate of the opposite party in order to give their own party the advantage in the general election.
Semi-open. A registered voter need not publicly declare which political party’s primary that they will vote in before entering the voting booth. When voters identify themselves to the election oﬃcials, they must request a party’s specific ballot. Only one ballot is cast by each voter. In many states with semi-open primaries, election oﬃcials or poll workers from their respective parties record each voter’s choice of party and provide access to this information. The primary diﬀerence between a semi-open and open primary system is the use of a party-specific ballot. In a semi- open primary, a public declaration in front of the election judges is made and a party-specific ballot given to the voter to cast. Certain states that use the open- primary format may print a single ballot and the voter must choose on the ballot itself which political party’s candidates they will select for a contested oﬃce.
Blanket primary. A primary in which the ballot is not restricted to candidates from one party is called a blanket primary.
Nonpartisan blanket primary. In a nonpartisan blanket primary, the ballot is not restricted to candidates from one party, and the top two candidates advance to the general election regardless of party aﬃliation. Louisiana has famously operated under this system, which has been nicknamed the “jungle primary.” California has used a nonpartisan blanket primary since 2012 after passing Proposition 14 in 2010, and the state of Washington has used a nonpartisan blanket primary since 2008.
Texas’ primaries are difficult to classify–they are somewhere between open and semi-open. Voters in Texas don’t register under a party label and may choose to vote in either party’s primary (but not both).
Voters who cast ballots in one of the major party primary elections may only vote in the runoff election for the same party in which they cast their primary ballot. Voters who did not cast a ballot in primary elections are free to choose either party’s runoff ballot, but may only vote in one party’s runoff election.
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