An open primary is any primary election in which a voter either does not have to formally affiliate with a political party to vote in its primary. Open primaries allow voters to vote in a party’s primary election, even if they were previously affiliated with a different party. Conversely, a closed primary is an election in which the voter must formally affiliate with a political party in advance of the election to participate in that party’s primary. Whether primaries will be open or closed is decided by that state’s respective political party.
Support and Opposition of Open Primaries
Supporters of open primaries argue that open primaries could increase voter participation. Open primaries allow nonpartisan or independent voters to nominate presidential candidates, making them more likely to vote in the general election. Also, someone in the middle may agree more with a single candidate of one party and encourage them to vote in the open primary and general elections.
On the other hand, opponents of the open primary system argue that it is bad for voter participation since the closed primary system has more incentive for people to join one of the major parties. Opponents also argue that the open primary could lead to dilution and manipulation if one party plans to have its voter vote in the other party’s primary. In this event, voters could choose the less desirable or the one that could be easily defeated by the first party.
Additionally, opponents argued that the open primary is unconstitutional because it violates their freedom of association. This is because open primaries allow outsiders of their party to select their candidates. To counter this argument, supporters argue that the U.S. Constitution does not mention political parties.
Washington and California have what is known as a top-two primary. This type of primary election lists all candidates on the same primary ballot and the top two candidates, regardless of their partisan affiliation, advance to the general election.
California has a modified closed primary between 2001 and 2011, which allowed each political party to decide whether they would permit unaffiliated voters to vote in their primary. This system eased the constitutional concerns of both the open and closed primary systems. The Republican, Democratic, and American Independent parties all chose to permit unaffiliated voters to request their party’s ballot in the 2004 and 2006 primaries, but the Republican Party has not opted for this since the 2008 presidential election. In 2011, California adopted a modified open primary, allowing individual citizens to vote for any candidates, and the top two candidates, regardless of party, advance to the general election. This method is a contest for state delegates and is not used for the Presidential election.
States with Open Primaries
In 22 U.S. states, at least one political party conducts open primaries for congressional and state-level officials. The states in which at least one political party utilizes open primaries for congressional and state-level election are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
States with Open Primaries in the 2020 Presidential Election
The following states have open primaries for the 2020 presidential primaries and caucuses for the Democratic Party: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The following states have open primaries for the 2020 presidential primaries and caucuses for the Republican Party: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.