Primary Elections:  Types

Although there were isolated instances of direct-primary nominations in the 19th century, primary elections were first provided for to a significant extent by state law early in the 20th century, and nearly all nominations are now made in primaries.  The primary election was originally intended to take nominations away from party leaders in state and local party conventions and give this power to the people. The results have been mixed. Some candidates have won primaries who could not have been nominated in their party's conventions, but generally there has not been much competition for nomination in primaries, especially when incumbents have sought renomination. In areas of the country where one party is overwhelmingly powerful, though, the primary elections have always been important, sometimes even more so than the general elections. In the old "solid South," for example, the Democratic party was so strong that its choices for public office almost invariably won the general election thus requiring a run-off primary (see below).

Blanket Primary:  Voters may nominate any candidate in any given office regardless of their party affiliation. Now unconstitutional.  See California Democratic Party v. Jones.

Closed Primary:   A candidate may only be nominated for office by voters who have registered with the contender’s party. Unaffiliated voters may not vote.

Closed Primary, with Independent:  Same as the closed ballot system, except that unaffiliated voters are permitted to vote. Sometimes, only one of the major parties (Republican or Democrat) allows Independents to vote in their primary, and that party is noted on the ballot in brackets.

Open Primary, Public Declaration:  Voters must publicly declare their choice of party before receiving a ballot at the polling place on Election Day.

Open Primary, Private Choice:  Voters receive ballots for each political party and make their choice of which primary to participate in within the privacy of the voting booth.

Run-Off Primaries:  Voters have the opportunity to cast ballots in second party nominating election when no candidate got a majority in the first one.

Non-Partisan Primaries:  Primary elections in which the candidates are not listed by party affiliation (usually judicial elections).  Common in Louisiana.

Presidential Primaries:  Almost 45 of the states now use presidential primaries in which voters take part either by electing delegates on a given candidate's slate to the national conventions or by voting their preference for the candidates listed on the state ballot.

Challenge Primary:  This is a primary election held after a nominating converntion at which the convention's nominee is challenged by a candidate who was not selected at the convention.  Specified criteria must be met.