Primaries in the United States

Primary Election: Types of Primaries

Introduction to Primaries

Primary elections differ depending upon the law in the state in which the election is being held. The most common form is the closed primary, in which voters must be registered members of the political party or declare their party affiliation before they are allowed to vote in that party’s primary election. Voters may participate in a different party’s primary in subsequent elections if they change their party registration. About 40 of the 50 states use closed primaries. Other states use open primaries, in which any voter can vote in any party’s primary. Voters are given the ballots of all parties and select the party ballot on which they wish to vote in the secrecy of the voting booth. Having selected the ballot of one party, however, the voter in the open primary is confined to the candidates of that party and cannot vote for candidates of an opposing party. A few states use the blanket primary. In this type of primary, the names of all candidates of all parties are printed on a single ballot, and the voter may vote for a candidate for each office, crossing party lines at will.

Nonpartisan primaries are preliminary elections in which candidates are listed on the ballot without mention of political affiliation. The two candidates who receive the highest number of votes face each other in the general election. In some states, however, any candidate who receives a majority of all votes cast in the primary is declared elected. Nonpartisan primaries are often used for the selection of judges, municipal officials, school boards, and other local officials.

Primaries may be direct or indirect. In a direct primary, voters select the party’s nominee directly. Most primary elections are direct primaries. In an indirect primary, voters choose delegates who select the party’s nominee at a party convention. The indirect primary is used today in presidential contests, but rarely in races for other elected offices.

States vary in their rules governing what requirements candidates must meet to be listed on the primary ballot and whether political parties may endorse candidates before the primary. States also have different rules concerning the percentage of votes needed for a candidate to win a primary election. Some states only require that a candidate get more votes than the next leading candidate-that is, a plurality of votes. Other states require the candidate to receive a majority of votes-at least 50 percent of all votes cast-to win. In primaries that require a majority for victory, one candidate often does not capture a majority of the vote. Then the state must hold a second primary, known as a run-off primary, between the top two vote-getters.

Louisiana uses a unique variant of the open primary system for every elected office except president of the United States. In a sense, the Louisiana open primary is nonpartisan. Candidates from both parties run in the same primary election. A candidate is elected to office if he or she wins a majority of votes in the primary. Otherwise, the top two vote-getters face each other in the general election, even if they are from the same party. Because a candidate can win election in the first round, this method, despite its name, is really not a primary election at all. Rather it is a two-round general election, similar to that used in France to elect its president.” (1)

Types of Primaries

We can differenciate among:

Direct Primaries

Voters choose candidates they support:
Open Primary–All candidates are on the ballot
Closed Primary–Voters choose party and then vote for candidates from that party

Indirect Primaries

In this case, convention delegates choose candidates.

Nonpartisan Primaries

Candidates’ parties are not important in this kind of primaries.

Presidential Primaries

It is a State election to choose delegates for national convention. Some states use a presidential primary to select delegates for the national convention. The delegates promise to support a certain candidate. The candidate presents his or her delegates at the national convention. A vote for those delegates is the same as a vote for the candidate who presents them. A similar method is the presidential preference primary. In this primary voters choose delegates in the same way, but the delegates do not have to support certain candidates.

Every four years political parties hold national conventions to select their candidates for President and Vice President, and to develop a party platform. These conventions are held in large cities and take place in the summer before the November presidential elections. Citizens can follow the proceedings of the convention on television, on radio, and in newspapers.

At the convention, the party will have delegates vote for a candidate for President. The party also tells each state and territory how many delegate votes it will have.


Notes and References

  1. Information about Primaries in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia

Guide to Primaries

Primaries: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Primaries. This part provides references, in relation to Primaries, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Primaries by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Primaries and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Primaries or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Primaries and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Primaries. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Primaries should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Primaries when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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