Unaffiliated Primary Voters

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In his farewell address, President George Washington warned: “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion." 

Despite this impassioned warning, the United States has developed a strong two-party system in the past two centuries, which has allowed our Founding Father's grim vision to take hold. In fact, the last time a third-party candidate won any state's electoral college vote for president was in 1968. Americans are ultimately given a choice between only two candidates on the day of the general election. 

What makes matters worse is that a substantial number of Americans are barred from voting to decide on who those final two choices will be. According to the organization Open Primaries, thirteen states and DC hold closed primaries for presidential primaries (laws vary for congressional and states primaries.) The National Conference of State Legislatures explains that in closed primaries, “a voter seeking to vote ... must first be a registered party member…. Independent or unaffiliated voters, by definition, are excluded from participating in the party nomination contests.”

In addition, other states have less strict rules but still bar certain voters from participating. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures:

Partially closed primaries: “Permits political parties to choose whether to allow unaffiliated voters or voters not registered with the party to participate in their nominating contests before each election cycle”; 

Partially open primaries: “Permits voters to cross party lines, but they must either publicly declare their ballot choice or their ballot selection may be regarded as a form of registration with the corresponding party”;

Open to unaffiliated voter primaries: “Allows only unaffiliated voters to participate in any party primary they choose, but do not allow voters who are registered with one party to vote in another party’s primary.”

The only primaries that allow for total participation from all voters in the state are open primaries. There are 15 open primary states. 

The map below categorizes each state as having Closed, Mixed, or Open Primaries.

Open and Closed Primaries

Source: Open Primaries

According to Gallup, a little under half (46%) of Americans do not identify with a political party. Only a quarter (25%) identify as Republican, and 27% identify as Democrat. This means voters are either forced to choose between a political party they may not fully identify with or they are barred from participating in many state primary elections.

If we want to consider ourselves a democracy, we should allow all of our citizens to participate fully in choosing who leads our country. Otherwise, the votes these people are allowed to cast on election day could be practically meaningless. 

Primary Types by State

 

Democratic Presidential Primary

Republican Presidential Primary

Alabama

Open

Open

Alaska

Open

Closed

Arizona

Closed

Closed

Arkansas

Open

Open

California

Mixed

Closed

Colorado

Open

Open

Connecticut

Closed

Closed

Delaware

Closed

Closed

Dist. of Col.

Closed

Closed

Florida

Closed

Closed

Georgia

Open

Open

Hawaii

Open

Closed

Idaho

Mixed

Closed

Illinois

Mixed

Mixed

Indiana

Open

Open

Iowa

Mixed

Mixed

Kansas

Mixed

Mixed

Kentucky

Closed

Closed

Louisiana

Closed

Closed

Maine

Closed

Closed

Maryland

Mixed

Mixed

Massachusetts

Mixed

Mixed

Michigan

Open

Open

Minnesota

Open

Open

Mississippi

Open

Open

Missouri

Open

Open

Montana

Open

Open

Nebraska

Mixed

Mixed

Nevada

Closed

Closed

New Hampshire

Mixed

Mixed

New Jersey

Closed

Closed

New Mexico

Closed

Closed

New York

Closed

Closed

North Carolina

Mixed

Mixed

North Dakota

Open

Closed

Ohio

Mixed

Mixed

Oklahoma

Mixed

Closed

Oregon

Closed

Closed

Pennsylvania

Closed

Closed

Rhode Island

Mixed

Mixed

South Carolina

Open

Open

South Dakota

Open

Closed

Tennessee

Open

Open

Texas

Open

Open

Utah

Open

Closed

Vermont

Open

Open

Virginia

Open

Open

Washington

Mixed

Closed

West Virginia

Mixed

Mixed

Wisconsin

Open

Open

Wyoming

Mixed

Mixed

Note: This list includes three broad types of primaries. The rules in specific states can include nuances, can frequently change, and can differ between types of elections. We encourage you to research the rules in your own state to more fully understand who can vote in each state. 

Tags:
Elections
Independents
Primaries
Voting Rights