A hybrid primary is a Top-Four primary. Unlike a simple Top-Four, a hybrid primary used a two stage vote tally to incorporate the closed major party primaries. This is a special type of “Ranked Choice” ballot. Registered major party members indicate their first choice on the ballot, but their second choice is always the top party candidate.
The best way to explain how this all works is by examining the ballots that voters may choose to use. Shown below are “mock” ballots for the 2016 U.S. Presidential Primary. These are representations of actual ballots received by Oregon voters in May of 2016. (Note: Oregon had 3 major parties in 2016, but the third party had no presidential candidate.)
Oregon is a closed primary state, and as shown, there were three different ballots available to voters: “Democratic” – listing only the Democratic candidates; “Republican” – listing only the Republican candidates; and a blank “Nonpartisan” ballot – required for all minor-party and Independent voters – showing no candidates at all. By law, in a closed primary state, all unaffiliated candidates and voters are excluded.
Next, mock ballots for the same election are depicted below – if the election had been conducted as a hybrid primary. Once again there are still three different ballots available for voters to choose, but, the “Nonpartisan” ballot has been replaced with an “Open” ballot. In addition, the name of every candidate appears on every ballot. (Including Independent and minor party.) A hybrid primary is a “free” election – no candidate or voter is excluded, and there are no artificial barriers preventing any voter from supporting any candidate.
What is a “two-stage” vote tally?
“Vote Splitting” is the fatal flaw of open elections. Candidates may fail to advance from the primary to the general election, or may fail to win the general election, simply because a similar candidate is on the ballot. (Bush, Gore, Nader – Florida 2000)
To avoid vote-splitting by major party candidates, the vote tally in a hybrid primary is conducted in two stages. The major party ballots are tallied first, with the top candidate receiving all the affiliated votes cast. (winner-take-all) By registering as a member of a major party and requesting a partisan ballot, affiliated voters implicitly declare their intention to support the top party candidate in the general election.
In the second stage of the vote tally, the results of the initial partisan tally are added to the votes cast by open ballot. Only the top four candidates advance to the general election. Major parties are no longer guaranteed a spot on the general election ballot, but, in all likelihood, a single Republican and a single Democratic candidate will advance, leaving two spots open for minor party or Independent candidates.
A hybrid primary uses a two-stage vote tally to combine an “open” Top-Four” election with the traditional “closed” party primaries.
What does it mean to “opt-out”?
- Partisan ballots are only provided to major political parties: organizations that have a significant base of support; and that typically field more than one candidate per office.
- On the partisan ballots, the names of affiliated candidates are listed first with the names of unaffiliated candidates listed below. Affiliated voters using partisan ballots can “opt-out” of the initial partisan tally, on a race-by-race basis, by voting for an unaffiliated candidate from the lower half of the ballot. (In a free election, Independent and minor party candidates must have an unfettered opportunity to solicit the support of major party voters.)
- If an affiliated voter opts-out by voting for an unaffiliated candidate, that vote is not included in the initial partisan winner-take-all tally. The vote is instead included in the final open tally with other votes cast by open ballot. (In a free election, each voter may cast a single vote and that vote counts the same as any other vote.)
- Write-in candidates are allowed on every ballot, but a write-in is always an unaffiliated candidate. (A write-in candidate may not win a major party primary.
What are the advantages of a hybrid primary?
- Independent and minor party voters secure the right to participate in selecting the top candidates for the general election ballot.
- Minor party candidates secure the right of equal ballot access for both the primary and general election.
- Major political parties retain the ability to consolidate their support behind a single candidate for each office in a closed primary.
- By design, no party or candidate is guaranteed a spot on the general election ballot. Nonetheless, because of strong voter support, each major party will typically advance a candidate to the general election.
- By design, the general election will not be a choice between the lesser of two evils – four candidates advance from the primary election and major parties typically advance only a single candidate each.
- For closed primary states, there is no additional cost associated with implementing a hybrid primary. The necessary infrastructure is already in place. Voters already have the opportunity to declare their party affiliation at the time of registration. In addition, state and local governments already distribute and tally separate partisan and nonpartisan ballots for each election.