In U.S. primary elections, registered members of a political party select their party's nominees to run in the general election each November. Some states hold open primaries in which all registered voters may participate, but others have closed primaries, in which only registered party members may participate. Closed primaries allow the political parties to act as gatekeepers, limiting who may participate in the selection of nominees. The website FairVote.org reports that, as of 2010, 19 states and the District of Columbia hold closed primaries, though three of these states have a closed primary with special provisions.
Closed Primary States
The 16 states operating closed primaries, as reported by FairVote, are Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota. The District of Columbia also operates a closed primary, in which only voters registered with the Democratic, Republican, D.C. Statehood Green, or Umoja parties can vote in their respective party’s primary election.
Closed With Special Provisions
According to FairVote, three states — North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Utah — operate closed primaries, but with special provisions. In North Carolina, registered party members may vote only in the primary of the party with which they are affiliated. Unaffiliated voters may choose a party on the day of a primary. Rhode Island also allows unaffiliated voters to participate in primaries. However, once they vote, they are considered members of the party in whose primary they vote. In Utah, the Republican primary is closed, while the Democratic primary is open to independent voters.
Closed Caucus States
FairVote.org reported in 2008 that six states — Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Nevada and Wyoming — operate closed caucuses instead of primary elections. A caucus is a meeting in which party members select nominees for elected office. Caucuses often meet in public facilities, such as schools, town halls, or public auditoriums, that can accommodate a large number of people.
- FairVote: Primaries – Open and Closed
- "Politics in America, 6th ed."; Thomas R. Dye; 2005
Shane Hall is a writer and research analyst with more than 20 years of experience. His work has appeared in "Brookings Papers on Education Policy," "Population and Development" and various Texas newspapers. Hall has a Doctor of Philosophy in political economy and is a former college instructor of economics and political science.