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Most elections today are decided in the primary, the election generally with the lowest voter turnout. As a result, a small minority of voters decides the vast majority of elections.

  • Nationally in 2022, 83% of Congress was determined by 8% of voters (UniteAmerica, 2023).

  • In Maryland in 2022, the seven safe seats in Congress were determined in the primary by 12% of registered voters.

Maryland is one of nine states whose primary elections are closed. Only those registered with one of the two principal parties may vote in these elections. 

  • Unaffiliated, or independent, voters in Maryland account for more than 22% of the state’s voters. That means more than 1 in 5 Maryland voters are locked out of participating in these most determinative of elections.

  • Maryland, with its close proximity to the nation’s capital, is home to many voters who for professional reasons choose not to affiliate with a political party. This includes veterans, federal workers, those who work for think tanks or the media, and other professions where perception of objectivity is essential.

Limited participation primary elections
Many registered voters are not allowed to participate

What’s wrong with today’s system?

How can we fix it?

Because not everyone can participate in today’s primaries, general election candidates are chosen by a small, highly partisan, fraction of the electorate. In November, voters find themselves choosing between unpopular general election candidates who don’t well represent them. Expanded voting opportunites in the primaries will:

  • Encourage candidates to appeal to all voters earlier in the election process, thereby increasing the chances of nominating a candidate with broad support and greater electability.

  • Allow unaffiliated voters to participate in the most determinative of elections.

  • Give all voters a greater voice in who represents them.

  • Encourage politicians to listen to all constituents.

  • Increase the diversity of candidate as it reduces the barriers to seek election.

  • Reduce toxicity and negativity in campaigns.


Other states accommodate their voters through a variety of different election types, including the three listed below.

Allow all registered voters to vote in every taxpayer-funded election


In states with semi-closed primaries, unaffiliated voters may vote in the primary of their choice, while voters registered with a party may only vote in that party’s primary.

How does it work?

  • Unaffiliated voters may go to the polls on election day and register to receive the party primary ballot of their choice. 

  • Those registered with a political party may only vote in their party primary.

  • Does not allow those registered in a party to sabotage another party’s primary.

Who uses it?

Maine and New Hampshire use this system along with 12 other states where at least one political party allows unaffiliated voters to participate in their otherwise closed primary.


All registered voters select the party primary ballot of their choice.

How does it work?

At the polls, all registered voters select the party primary ballot of their choice. Each ballot lists candidates from that party only.

Who uses it?

Nine states allow voters to select which ballot to vote with on election day, including Alabama, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. 

All Participation

All registered voters receive the same ballot with all candidates listed regardless of party affiliation. 

How does it work?

All candidates, regardless of party, appear on a single ballot and all voters cast their vote on the same ballot, regardless of party registration.

Who uses it?

  • Louisiana - in which the winner is determined by the candidate that receives more than 50% of the votes. If no one achieves a majority, a run-off of the top two vote-getters is held.

  • Alaska - in which the open primary is paired with a RCV general election. In this system, the top four vote getters advance to the general election in which voters rank their choices.

Expanded participation primary elections

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