All blogs
All three things
All news
Primary Problem
Featured News

Primary Roundup: How 3 Million Voters Had No Voice in the June 4 Primaries

Dive into the June 4, 2024, primary elections where over 3 million registered voters were unable to participate due to closed primaries. Explore the impact of these exclusions across five states and the ongoing reforms aimed at creating a more inclusive and representative electoral process.

Carlo Macomber
Research Manager
June 5, 2024

Primary Roundup: June 4, 2024

On Tuesday, June 4, five states held their congressional primaries (Iowa, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota). These states have a combined total of 22 congressional districts. To this point, 22 states — with a total 240 U.S. House seats — have held their congressional primaries. 

Three of the states that voted on June 4 hold closed primaries (NJ, NM, SD), which prohibit voters not registered with a major party from participating. Combined, 3,000,000 registered voters were locked out of those primaries. Eight closed primary states have held congressional primaries to date, prohibiting nearly 8,000,000 registered voters from participating.

National Update

Nearly half of the U.S. House has already been effectively elected to Congress. To date, just 5% of the country’s voting age population has effectively elected 49% of the U.S. House of Representatives. Following the primaries on June 11, more than half of the House will already be effectively decided. By the end of primary season in mid-September, more than 80% of U.S. representatives will already be chosen.

Analysis of June 4 Primaries

New Jersey has 12 congressional districts, and 11 of these seats are rated “safe” by the Cook Political Report, meaning that they were effectively decided in the primaries. Just seven of the 11 safe seats saw more than one candidate run in the primary of the district’s dominant party. In those competitive primaries, just under 300,000 voters participated — which is just 4% of the state’s voting age population.

This means that, overall, 4% of NJ’s voting age population effectively elected 92% of the state’s U.S. House delegation in dominant party primaries.

In Iowa, three of the state’s four congressional districts are safe and were decided during the primaries. Two of the safe districts had competitive dominant party primaries, and just under 75,000 total voters participated in those contests (or just 3% of the voting age population). Overall, just 3% of IA voters effectively decided the outcome in three of the state’s four districts during the primaries. 

Unsurprisingly, the story is similar in the other three states:

  • Both of Montana’s U.S. House seats were settled in the primaries. About 21% of the state’s voting age population participated in the decisive Republican primaries. While that is a higher percentage than other states, it is still a far cry from the percentage of voters who will participate in November’s general election.
  • In New Mexico, two of the state’s three districts are safe, and in South Dakota, the state’s sole U.S. House seat is also safe. In both of these states, there was no competition in any of the safe district dominant party primaries — meaning that no voters from these districts had a voice in who represents them in the House.

One of the most notable primaries that occurred on June 4 was the Republican primary in Montana’s Second Congressional District. Rep. Matt Rosendale decided in March not to seek reelection this cycle, leaving the seat open. Given that the seat is safe for the Republicans, the GOP primary was the decisive election. Nine candidates entered the race, and Troy Downing, a veteran, businessman, and current state auditor, ultimately won with just 36% of the vote — well short of a majority. Downing was endorsed by Donald Trump in the days leading up to the primary, which may have pushed him over the top in the crowded field. 

Because of the current election system of partisan primaries and plurality winner elections, Downing was effectively chosen as the new representative for Montana’s second district with just 36% support in a Republican primary.

Opportunities for Change

Luckily for voters in three of the states that voted on June 4, passionate reformers are advocating for change that will put voters first. Montanans for Election Reform is proposing a ballot initiative that would implement an all-candidate open primary (also known as a nonpartisan primary) in the state. All voters would be eligible to participate, and the top four vote getters would advance to the general election. The campaign is also supporting an initiative that would require majority winners in general elections. Supporters are currently working to qualify both initiatives for the ballot.

South Dakota Open Primaries is also proposing an initiative in their state to implement an all-candidate open primary. Their proposal would also allow all voters to participate in the primary, but it would instead advance the top two finishers to the general election. With two candidates on the ballot, a majority winner would be guaranteed. 

In New Mexico, New Mexico Open Elections is advocating for the state to switch from closed primaries (which do not allow independents to participate) to semi-open primaries (which allow independents to choose one party’s primary ballot).

While these campaigns are taking three different approaches to address the Primary Problem in their states, they are all working to put voters first in order to establish more representative and functional government.