Is it true? Can Independents vote in presidential primaries?—Nope!

A few months before each primary election, in states that conduct closed primaries, articles begin to appear claiming that independents can vote in the upcoming major party primaries. Voters only need to submit a form requesting a partisan ballot, or in some cases, simply choose a partisan ballot on election day. These are often claimed to be “hybrid”, “semi-open” or “semi-closed” primaries. In one case, the author actually claims the primary is “open”. The posts excerpted below are great examples:

“Hey, Arizona Independents! You can vote in the primary

There’s a misunderstanding when it comes to Independents voting in Arizona primaries, but it’s quite simple: You’ll just need to request a ballot.”

“Ohio utilizes an open primary system. In an open primary system, a voter does not have to register with a political party beforehand in order to vote in that party’s primary. In Ohio, voters select their preferred party primary ballots at their polling places on Election Day.”

Are these claims really true? Can Independents really vote in closed party primaries? Does Ohio really conduct open primaries? The short, blunt answer is – no – because, allowing voters simpler options to declare their affiliation (join a major party), is not equivalent to an open primary. Take a look at a typical definition found on the web:

closed primary. A type of direct primary limited to registered party members, who must declare their party affiliation in order to vote. ”

Now take a look at a similar but much more accurate definition of a closed primary. Only one word is different – can you spot it?

closed primary. A type of direct primary limited to affiliated party members, who must declare their party affiliation in order to vote. “

Traditionally, party members declared their affiliation at the time of registration. More recently, many states have adopted “Relaxed Registration Requirements” (3R). In a 3R closed primary state, voters may declare their party affiliation by requesting a partisan ballot, or in some cases by simply choosing a partisan ballot on election day.”

So why the deception and false claims? The answer is obvious – “necessity”. In a closed primary state (traditional or 3R) all unaffiliated voters are excluded. Voter exclusion wasn’t a big in issue in the past, but as the number of Independent voters has grown, the issue has grown with them. In the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential primary, voter exclusion has the potential to eclipse all other issues. The press may not report on it – but Independent voters will be thinking about it. Major party supporters are desperate to claim that primary election reform isn’t needed because we already have free elections – we don’t.

Oregon may lead the nation in voter exclusion. As of February 2019, (according to official published reports) Oregon had over 2.7 million registered voters. Of that, nearly 1.1 million are not affiliated with either major party. This is nearly 40%. You can’t force voters to join a party as a precondition to full voting rights and you can’t disenfranchise that many voters and expect no pushback. For the major parties, the issue of voter exclusion is a train wreck in slow motion. They can see it coming, but they can’t stop it – there’s simply too much momentum.

Shown below are some alternative definitions for the terms “semi-open” and “semi-closed” primary:

“semi-open primary, semi-closed primary. Inaccurate, misleading terms referring to a closed primary with relaxed registration requirements. (3R closed primary) All unaffiliated voters and candidates are excluded – but voters may declare their party affiliation and join a major party by means other than registration. These terms are typically used in conjunction with a false claim that Independents can vote in a closed primary.

There is no need to come up with an alternative definition for a hybrid primary, because there really is such a thing:

“A hybrid primary uses a two-stage vote tally to combine an “open” Top-Four election with the traditional “closed” party primaries.”

Most people think that election reform involves collecting signatures for an initiative petition or running as an Independent candidate. In this particular case, we’re fighting a propaganda battle, and there are much simpler ways to participate. When you see an article or post on the web claiming that Independents can vote in a closed primary – post a comment or reply. It only takes a few minutes and costs nothing.

There’s no need to be nasty or vulgar, just politely point out that allowing voters to join a major party, by means other than voter registration, is not the same thing as an open primary. Most of the newspapers and tv stations that have been making these claims actually support election reform. Posts have even appeared at the Independent Voter Network (IVN), inadvertently perpetuating this partisan propaganda.

Over a period of time, one-by-one, reporters and media outlets will stop repeating the false claims of a semi-open or semi-closed primary. Eventually, Google and other search engines will modify their “structured snippets” with more accurate definitions for a “closed primary”.

To a novice activist, this might not appear to be much of a battle. Why bother? Because the issue of voter exclusion is exploding. If it’s not an overriding concern in the 2020 presidential primary – it will be by 2024. The issue of voter exclusion is creating the momentum needed to finally pass real election reform. If partisans are denied the opportunity to claim free elections already exist – how do they continue to defend closed primaries?