January 31, 2022 | Priya Elangovan

Before we hit the midterms in 2022, we first have to make it through the primaries. Unlike the presidential primaries, which are a little more uniform, there are six main types of primaries for state and local elections, (and that’s not to mention places that use ranked-choice voting)! On top of that, Louisiana, Nebraska, and Alaska all have their own unique primary election system. As you’re prepping for the upcoming elections, check out what type of primary your state has below. Then check that your voter registration and, if needed, your party affiliation are up to date.

Open Primaries

Allow voters to choose which party’s primary they want to vote in when they get to the ballot box and this choice is kept private. Voters do not have to register with a party to vote in the primary, and they won’t be registered with the party when they cast their ballot. This also allows voters to cross party lines, so a registered Democrat could choose to vote in the Republican primary and vice versa. 

The states that have open primaries are: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Open to Unaffiliated Voters

States with this type of primary do not allow voters to cross party lines. Voters registered with a party can only vote in their party’s primary, while unaffiliated or Independent voters can select which primary they want to vote in. Like open primaries, this will not change an unaffiliated voter’s party registration. Unlike in fully open primaries, some states will include which party’s primary you voted in on your voting record.

The states that have this style of primary are: Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.

Partially Open

Voters in states with partially open primaries can cross party lines, but they will either have to publicly declare this choice or change their party registration on Election Day depending on the state. Voting records or state parties may also keep track of which party’s primary they voted in. 

The states that have this type of primary are: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

Partially Closed

In partially closed systems, state parties are allowed to decide before each election if they want to allow unaffiliated voters to vote in the primary, but keep voters from crossing party lines. If you are an unaffiliated voter in a state with partially closed primaries, it is even more important to check what the parties decided before you go vote.

The states that have partially closed primaries are: Connecticut, Idaho, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah. 

Closed Primaries

States with closed primaries only allow voters registered with the party to vote in the primary election. Independent or unaffiliated voters are also not allowed to vote in the party primary, unlike the other systems. States with closed primaries also often have different deadlines for changing party registration.

The states that have closed primaries are: Delaware, Floria, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.

Top-Two Primaries

California and Washington use a top-two system. The top two format lists all the candidates on the same ballot, regardless of their party ID. The two candidates that receive the most votes in the primary go on to the general election in November. In California, the candidates must include their party affiliation, while in Washington they can list a party preference but are not required to.

Louisiana

Louisiana’s system for federal and state elections is similar to the top-two system. The key difference is that Louisiana doesn’t have a primary, on the general election date all the candidates are on the same ballot. If no candidate gets 50% of the vote, then the top two vote getters regardless of party advance to a runoff. This system is sometimes referred to as a jungle primary.

Nebraska

Nebraska’s state legislature is nonpartisan, so all the candidates for state legislature run on a single nonpartisan primary ballot without party identification

Alaska

As of 2020, Alaska uses a top-four primary system for state executive, state legislative, and congressional elections. Under this system, all candidates for office run on a single primary ballot regardless of party affiliation. The top four vote getters from this process advance to the general election. In the general election, ranked-choice voting is used to select the candidates if a single candidate does not get a majority of the votes in the first round.