Semi-Open Primaries

Forty-five percent of US voters now identify as Independent or Decline to State (DTS) voters, and this affiliation is growing faster than any other party membership in the United States. In states like New Mexico, these voters, along with minor-party voters, are not allowed to participate in publicly-funded primary elections.

At New Mexico Open Elections we believe open primaries, and in particular, the semi-open primary model, will greatly enhance the quality of our public elections. Semi-open primary elections, also known as "hybrid" or "modified" primary elections, offer a number of potential advantages compared to other types of primary elections:

  • Greater voter voice: In a semi-open primary, DTS/Independent voters and minor party voters are able to choose which party's primary they want to participate in.
  • Greater voting access: Currently, 25% of New Mexicans registered as independents or minor party voters are not able to vote in our publicly-funded primary elections. Semi-open primaries would remove the unequitable burden of having to change voter registration in order to be able to vote in a primary. Instead, these voters could select a party's ballot at the primary. 
  • Increased competition: Semi-open primaries can encourage more competition within parties, as more voter participation will be enabled. This can lead to a wider range of viewpoints being represented and a more diverse group of candidates.
  • Higher turnout: Some research suggests that semi-open primary elections may lead to higher voter turnout, as more voters are able to participate in the primary process.
  • Greater influence for independents and minor party voters: In a semi-open primary, independent voters may have more influence on the outcome of the primary, as they are able to choose which party's primary to participate in. This can give them a greater voice in the political process.
  • Decreased political polarization: Some proponents of semi-open primaries argue that they can help to moderate the positions of candidates, as they may need to appeal to a wider range of voters in order to win the primary. States that have opened their primaries have seen a decrease in political polarization after making the change. Elected officials must then work on coalition-building and problem-solving to be seen as effective by the increased voting population, and can't just remain in place by pandering to one part of their electorate.

As we've educated the public about semi-open primaries, we've also heard a number of concerns about this change. Here are some of the most common questions people ask about this system and more information about those issues:

  • Since open primaries are a new idea, how do we know they're worth trying in New Mexico?

Currently, 38 other states have some form of open primaries. Open primaries have helped states decrease polarization and make it harder for extreme candidates of any party to win elections. Advocates in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Pennsylvania are working to get open primary initiatives on their ballots in 2024, which could drastically change this map and give millions of voters a voice in primary elections.

  • Won't people try to have undue influence and strategically vote against candidates in other parties?

Research has shown that this doesn't happen in a meaningful way, and open primaries may actually reduce the amount of strategic voting as compared to closed primaries. Even in a situation where there was an organized attempt at this by popular media personalities, it did not work.

  • Don't political parties have the right to determine who votes for their candidates? 

Because primaries are publicly-funded elections, we believe voters have the right to choose the candidates that best represent them in elections. Furthermore, the number of independent voters are growing and currently represent the largest group of voters. 61% of young voters and 50% of veterans are independent, and we don't think they should be excluded from being represented in primary elections.

  • Aren't open primaries unconstitutional?

No courts have ruled that semi-open primaries, which we are advocating for in New Mexico, are unconstitutional.

  • Doesn't same-day voting registration eliminate the need for any kind of open primary?

No. People who use same-day voting registration are barred from serving the public as election officials and poll watchers, which is an unfair bias. In talking with New Mexican voters, we've also heard again and again that in reality it takes them months to switch their registration after changing it to be able to vote in a primary. This is an unfair burden for independent voters and is discrimination based on political affiliation.

 

Enjoy our 2023 Strengthening Democracy Town Hall presentation on Open Primaries: