Election 101: Who are Florida primary voters, and how are they different?

In Florida, only preregistered Republican Party members can vote in the GOP presidential primary. That’s different from South Carolina and New Hampshire. Here's a look at the various types of elections.

Who decides who gets to vote in presidential primaries? We ask because the rules on this aren’t the same in every state, in case you haven’t noticed.

The upcoming Florida primary is a great example of why this question matters, too. In Florida, only preregistered Republican Party members can vote in the GOP primary. That’s different from South Carolina, where independents and even Democrats could cross over and participate in the Republican primary if they wanted to. It’s also different from New Hampshire, where independents (but not Democrats) could go GOP.

Then there’s Texas, where anybody can vote in either primary, but the second the lever is pulled, he or she then becomes a registered member of that party and gets branded by a red-hot “R” or “D” poker on the way out.

OK, we’re kidding about the brand. But the rest of that stuff is true. Who’s responsible for the tangled mess?

Amazingly, this is not Congress’s doing. Not directly, anyway. The rules governing presidential primaries are set by state legislatures and the parties themselves. Broadly speaking, there are four types of such elections:

Open primaries. These allow voters of any affiliation to vote for a candidate of whichever party they choose. Democrats can vote in the Republican primary and vice versa. Thirteen states have completely open primaries, according to FairVote.org.

Closed primaries. Only members of the party in question can vote in closed primaries. Twenty-two states, plus the District of Columbia, have closed primaries for both parties. Florida's is the first primary in which only tried-and-true Republicans can vote.

Semi-closed. In this option, members of a party can vote only in their party’s primary. Independents, however, can vote in either primary. (Only one per election, though.) Seven states have semi-closed systems for both the GOP and Democrats.

Hybrids. Eight states have hybrid systems, in which the rules for one party’s primary are different from the other’s. 

Is this confusing? Yes. Is it fair that in some states, such as Connecticut and Maryland, the parties themselves get to draw up the rules for primaries that are paid for with tax dollars, and that those rules can change quickly year to year? Maybe not.

“The system in place is a tangled mass of state and party rules. This jumble could and should be simplified and standardized, or voters will find themselves too exasperated to care,” wrote FairVote legal fellow Elise Helgesen in December after compiling a comprehensive list of state primary types.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.