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In a closed primary, only voters registered for the party which is holding the primary may vote. For example, if the Republican party is holding a closed primary, then only voters registered as Republicans are permitted to vote.
In some states, parties may have the option to invite unaffiliated voters to participate in the closed primary. Generally, unaffiliated voters will not be permitted to participate in the closed primary unless they choose to give up their independent status.
Some states use a mixed primary system. In most cases, this means the power to decide who can vote in a primary is given to the parties. Some parties may allow any registered voter to vote in their primary, some allow only those voters who are registered with their party, and others allow only voters who are unaffiliated to vote with their party members. Other mixed primary systems require unaffiliated voters to affiliate with a party in some way in order to vote in that party's primary. They can do this by choosing a party ballot, following their voting record, or publicly announcing which party they would like to affiliate with. The affiliation could last until the next election, until a voter requests to be changed back to unaffiliated or only for the day of the primary, depending on the state.
There are 21 states that have a mixed primary system, including:
- Alaska: Parties decide who may vote in their primary election. The Alaska Democratic Party, Alaska Libertarian Party and Alaskan Independence Party allow any registered voters. The Alaska Republican Party allows only registered Republicans, nonpartisan or undeclared voters.
- Arizona: The primary is considered semi-closed. Unaffiliated voters may choose which party's primary they will vote in, but voters registered with a party can only vote in that party's primary.
- Colorado: The primary is considered closed, but unaffiliated voters may choose to affiliate with a party on Election Day in order to vote.
- Connecticut: Though parties may decide to hold a semi-closed primary election, the primary is considered closed as neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party allows any voter but those registered with their party to vote.
- Idaho: Parties decide who may vote. The Democratic Party allows unaffiliated voters to vote in their primary. The Republican Party allows only voters registered with their party. Unaffiliated voters can choose to affiliate with a party on election day, but they will be bound to that party at the next election as well.
- Illinois: Voters do not have to register with a party, but they do have to choose, publicly, which party's ballot they will vote on at the primary election.
- Indiana: Voters are not required to register with a party, but the ballot they get depends on their voting history, which party they have voted for most in the past.
- Iowa: The primary is closed, but voters are allowed to change their political party affiliation on election day.
- Maryland: Parties decide who may vote in their primary election and generally close it to all voters except those registered with their party.
- Massachusetts: Unaffiliated voters are allowed to vote in the primary election. They may choose which party ballot they wish to vote on and still remain unaffiliated.
- Mississippi: Voters do not have to register with a party, but they must intend to support the party nominations if they vote in the primary election.
- Nebraska: A blanket primary system is used for the nonpartisan legislature and some other statewide races.
- New Hampshire: Unaffiliated voters may vote in the primary, but in order to so they have to choose a party before voting. This changes their status from unaffiliated to affiliated with that party, unless they fill out a card to return to undeclared status.
- North Carolina: Parties decide who may vote, and they opened the primary election to unaffiliated voters. They may choose which ballot they want to vote on without affecting their unaffiliated status.
- Ohio: Only affiliated voters can vote for candidates in the primary election; however, voters do not choose their affiliation until election day, when they request a party's ballot.
- Oklahoma: Parties decide who may vote, so an unaffiliated voter must be authorized by a party in order to vote in the primary.
- Rhode Island: Unaffiliated voters may vote in a party's primary, but they will then be considered affiliated with that party. In order to disaffiliate, they must file a "Change of Party Designation" form.
- South Dakota: Parties decide who may vote. Registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters may vote in the Democratic primary. Only registered Republicans may vote in the Republican primary.
- Texas: Voters do not have to register with a party. At the primary, they may choose which party primary ballot to vote on, but in order to vote they must sign a pledge declaring they will not vote in another party's primary or convention that year.
- Utah: Parties decide who may vote. Registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters may vote in the Democratic primary. Only registered Republicans can vote in the Republican primary.
- West Virginia: Parties decide who may vote. Both parties allow unaffiliated voters to vote in their primaries.
Arguments for and against
Proponents of closed primaries argue that they preserve a political party's freedom of association as well as preventing members of other parties from "crossing over" to influence the nomination of an opposing party's candidate.
Critics of the closed primary system argue that it exacerbates radicalization as candidates must cater to a party's, often more extreme, base rather than the political center. Voters who participate in primaries are often dedicated party regulars to whom candidates must appeal to win the primary. Once emerging from the primary, candidates often must change the focus of their campaigns to appeal to a broader electorate.
Critics also argue that because the closed primary often excludes independent voters, they are disenfranchised from choosing a possible nominee.
Other primary systems
- Ballotpedia:Index of Terms
- Open primary
- Blanket primary
- Voting in the 2013 primary elections
- Signature requirements and deadlines for 2014 state government elections
- Billings Gazette, "Montana Republicans vote for closed primaries, for runoff elections," June 21, 2014
- Encyclopedia Britannica, "Primary Election" accessed November 6, 2013
- Wise Geek: "What is a closed primary?" accessed November 6, 2013
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- Fair Vote: "Congressional and Presidential Primaries: Open, Closed, Semi-Closed, and 'Top Two,'" accessed November 6, 2013
- National Conference of State Legislatures Website, "State Primary Election Types," accessed January 6, 2014
- Ballotpedia research conducted December 26, 2013 through January 3, 2014 researching and analyzing various state websites and codes.
- State of Alaska Division of Elections Website, "Primary Election Information," accessed January 2, 2014
- Colorado Revised Statutes, "Title 1, Article 7, Section 201, Voting at primary election," accessed January 2, 2014
- Board of Election Commissioners for the City of Chicago, "2014 Primary: Frequently Asked Questions," accessed January 2, 2014
- Indiana Code, "Section 3-10-1-6," accessed January 3, 2014
- Iowa Secretary of State Website, "Voter Registration FAQ," accessed January 3, 2014
- Maryland State Board of Elections Website, "Primary Elections," accessed January 3, 2014
- Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Website, "Massachusetts Directory of Political Parties and Designations," accessed January 3, 2014
- Mississippi Election Code, "Section 23-15-575," accessed January 3, 2014
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- New Hampshire Secretary of State Website, "How to Register to Vote in New Hampshire," accessed January 3, 2014
- NC Election Connection, "Who Can Vote in Which Elections?" accessed January 3, 2014
- Ohio Secretary of State Website, "Frequently Asked Questions about General Voting and Voter Registration," accessed January 3, 2014
- Oklahoma State Election Board Website, "Voter Registration in Oklahoma," accessed January 3, 2014
- Rhode Island Board of Elections Website, "Frequently Asked Questions," accessed January 3, 2014
- South Dakota Secretary of State Website, "Registration & Voting," accessed January 3,2014
- Texas Statutes, "Section 172.086," accessed January 3, 2014
- Project Vote Smart, "Voter Registration: Utah," accessed January 3, 2014
- MTV Rock the Vote: "Terms and Definitions," accessed November 6, 2013