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Nonpartisan Primaries

What are nonpartisan primaries?

Learn how nonpartisan primaries improve election outcomes for all voters

Alana Persson
Digital Marketing Associate
April 15, 2024

Nonpartisan primaries are an innovative solution to a problem affecting U.S. politics known as the "Primary Problem." This issue arises because, due to geographic self-sorting and partisan gerrymandering, many general elections at the state and federal levels are not competitive. In these scenarios, the primary election of the dominant party often becomes the de facto general election. This situation leads to several negative outcomes:

The solution proposed to combat these issues is the adoption of nonpartisan primaries. In this system, all candidates compete in the same primary, regardless of party affiliation, and all eligible voters can participate. The candidates who receive the most votes — whether they are Top Two, Four, or Five, depending on the state's specific rules — advance to the general election. This system has several key benefits:

Evidence from states like California, Washington, and Nebraska, which have implemented nonpartisan primaries, shows positive voter engagement trends and candidates' moderation.

While nonpartisan primaries represent a significant reform aimed at improving democratic engagement and reducing polarization, other primary systems, such as open and semi-open primaries, offer incremental steps towards increasing voter participation and ensuring that election outcomes reflect the broader will of the people. While still based on party lines, these systems allow for greater voter choice and participation in the primary process, leading to outcomes that better represent the electorate's diverse views.

To learn more about the benefits of nonpartisan primaries and the steps states can take to improve representation, check Nick Troiano's new book, The Primary Solution: Rescuing our Democracy from the Fringes, now available for purchase.