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Difference Between Open and Closed Primary Elections

Difference Between Open and Closed Primary Elections

Nominations are an important part of an election process. Elections are held to decide a representative. Let's take a look at open vs. primary elections, which select the nominations of parties participating in the general election.
Anup Patwardhan
Primary but not General
The popularity of a candidate in primary elections, also known as the 'Electoral College', does not ensure a similar result in the general elections.
Elections are a part and parcel for choosing a government that leads a nation. The leaders that come into the fore to represent a public office play an important role in shaping up this government. These representatives are usually chosen by the parties or the alliances that are contesting the elections.

However, this trend has started changing since the early part of the 20th century. The parties contesting are going to the citizens for their opinion when deciding on the nominees who will represent them in the big race. Elections are held to decide the nominations too. These elections are known as primary elections.

Primary elections, or the primaries, are of two types:
  • Open Primary
  • Closed Primary
Given below are the differences of an open primary vs. a closed primary.
Open Primary
In an open primary, all the voters can cast their votes in the nomination process, irrespective of their affiliation to any political party. This has enabled voters with their affiliation to other political parties to cast their votes too. Politics is the last place to follow niceties and play fair by staying within the rules of the game. This gives rise to the problem of 'raiding' in an open primary.


When the members of the competing parties play a role in selecting the nominees for each other, they are bound to make sure to engineer circumstances that are best suited for them. They are provided with an opportunity to choose the weakest link from their opposition as their competition. This effort by a political party is known as 'raiding'.

Semi-open Primary

The advantage of a semi-open primary is that, it can avoid the problem of raiding. In this case, voters have to declare their political affiliation to election officials. They are then provided with the ballot that is specific to that particular party.
Closed Primary
In a closed primary, only the voters that are affiliated to the party can decide the nominee of that party. In this case, voters who have an affiliation to other political parties are not allowed to cast their votes, so are the one who have no affiliation, or are independent. One of the major requirements for this is that, voters need to declare in public the political party with whom their affiliation lies. Voters who want to vote in the elections need to be a member of that party a day before the elections, to say the least. In some places, this declaration has to be made as early as a year ahead of the elections.

Semi-closed Primary

This form of election is a slight variation from the closed primary. Here, only voters from the rival parties are not allowed to vote. Those who are not affiliated to any party, or are independent, can be a part of this process along with the voters of the concerned party.
Pros Cons
Open Primary In an open primary, a large array of people are able to choose the nominee who can represent them. The chances of the voting process being 'raided' are significantly high.
Closed Primary The problem of raiding can be avoided without much efforts. Does not take into account the opinion of the voters who are independent.
List of states with open primary,

Alabama Arkansas Georgia Hawaii
Idaho Indiana Michigan Minnesota
Mississippi Missouri  Montana North Dakota
South Carolina Tennessee  Texas Vermont
Virginia Washington Wisconsin
Examples of states with closed primary,

Arizona California Colorado Connecticut
Delaware District of Columbia Florida Kansas
Kentucky Maine Maryland Massachusetts
Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey
New Mexico New York North Carolina Oklahoma
Oregon Pennsylvania Rhode Island South Dakota
Utah West Virginia Wyoming
The process of primary elections gives a larger say to the people in choosing the leader who can better represent them, and provides them with an excellent opportunity to play a more important part in the functioning of the system.