Open vs. Closed Primary Elections

by Nicole Vulcan

Before the public votes for candidates in a state or national election, there's often a primary election that determines which candidates will make it to the final round. State rules differ regarding who can vote in these primaries, which are classed as open, closed or hybrid.

Who Can Vote in Which Primary

In a closed primary, you need to be registered as a member of a specific political party in order to vote for candidates in that party during the primary election. If you're registered as a Democrat, for example, you'll vote only in the Democratic primary. In an open primary, any voter registered in a particular district can vote in that primary election, though voters can only vote in one party's primary. In other words, you can't vote in the Democratic primary and then also vote in another party's primary.

Two Variations

Other ways to structure the primary include "top-two" and "semi-closed" primaries. In a semi-closed primary, voters already registered with a party vote in that party's primary, and unaffiliated voters get to choose the primary in which they want to participate. In top-two primaries, all candidates for a particular office are on one ballot, so all party-affiliated and non-affiliated voters choose from among the same primary candidates. The two candidates with the most votes move on to the general election.

About the Author

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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