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Is it Time to Close the Door on Open Primaries?

AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott


Last month, progressives reveled in the primary defeat of controversial Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn (NC-11). The first-term incumbent and unabashed Trump supporter was considered a rising star within the party before a series of scandals and public controversy caused his political prospects to quickly dim. But despite the left celebrating his defeat as a sign that the country was rejecting “Trump-style” and “Trump-supporting” candidates in favor of more politically moderate legislators, a new report reveals that Cawthorn’s downfall – as well as the defeat of several other Trump-backed candidates – may have had more to do with Democrats infiltrating Republican primaries than Republican voters themselves rejecting candidates.

According to a report from The Washington Post, several thousand Democratic voters voted against Cawthorn in the Republican primary, effectively guaranteeing his defeat. They were able to do so by taking advantage of North Carolina’s “semi-closed primary.” In the state, voters declare themselves as “Democratic, Republican, or Libertarian” and can only participate in primaries for their declared party. However, they can also register as “Unaffiliated.” This permits them to vote in whichever primary they choose. As the Post explains:

“From time to time, politicians and political entrepreneurs take advantage of this by trying to persuade unaffiliated voters who usually favor one party to vote in instead and sabotage the opposing party’s primary….In 2022, a number of groups in NC-11, including the “American Muckrakers” Political Action Committee (also known as the “Fire Madison PAC”) tried this tactic, encouraging NC-11 Democratic voters to temporarily change their party affiliation to unaffiliated, vote in the Republican primary, and support centrist Republican Wendy Nevarez.”

In Cawthorn’s district, more than 3,000 voters switched from “Democratic” to “Unaffiliated.” This figure was almost three times the average in North Carolina’s other 13 districts, and far more than any other recent primary. Of these Democrat-turned-unaffiliated voters, 1,754 cast ballots in the Republican primary. While this may seem like a relatively small figure, Cawthorn lost his primary by only 1,384 votes.

North Carolina’s primary process is far from the only one that has conservatives concerned. In 15 states, voters participate in “open primaries.” In these elections, registered voters can choose which primary they wish to participate in. This means that if one party’s candidate is unopposed in their primary, members of that party can freely vote in and upend the results of the opposite party’s election.

In Georgia, this is precisely what happened – again to the detriment of Trump-backed candidates. In the May 24th Georgia Republican primary, 37,000 voters who had cast ballots for Democrats in 2020 cast ballots for Republicans this time around. Perhaps unsurprisingly, several Trump-endorsed primary challengers, including former Senator David Perdue, who was vying to unseat Governor Brian Kemp, struggled against incumbents who were likely the beneficiaries of those Democrats voting in the Republican primary.

One of the biggest proponents of this strategy is Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) – an avowed anti-Trump Republican who has worked with Democrats on the January 6 Select Committee. According to the Associated Press, Kinzinger actively encouraged Independents and Democrats to manipulate the results of Republican primaries through his political organization Country First, which “targeted thousands of former Georgia Democrats with mailers and text messages urging them to support [Georgia Secretary of State Brad] Raffensperger for the sake of democracy.” Specifically, Country First sent text messages to Georgia voters that read “Don’t wait until the general election to go after the extremes. Vote in the Republican Primary for the candidate that supports truth and democracy.”

This growing phenomenon has led many Republicans to call for reforms and even an end to open primaries. Yet, no incumbent has expressed any interest in seeking such reforms in Georgia, or in any other state that continues to hold open primaries.

Mainstream outlets are calling this new tactic “strategic crossover voting,” and seem to encourage the practice. Many publications have labeled closed primaries “anti-democratic,” arguing that they force Independents to make a binary choice between parties. But this argument belies the fundamental purpose of a primary, which is for a political party to decide whom they wish to represent their interests in a general election. As was demonstrated in North Carolina, Georgia, and other states, semi-closed and open primaries can dramatically cripple the integrity of this process, and effectively prevent a candidate who most Republican voters in an electorate might support from making it onto the ballot.

The likeliest result of this process continuing will be for political parties to allow fewer candidates to run in said primaries. If there are several candidates and the primary is likely to be close, the opposite party can simply tip the scales to whichever candidate is weakest. The only protection against this would be for political parties to limit the number of primary candidates, thus making the process even less democratic.

Ultimately, the abuse of the open primaries system goes against the common-sense idea that Republicans should select the Republican candidate, while Democrats should select the Democratic candidate. By incentivizing political partisans to help select the candidate of the other party who they feel is the weakest, a basic premise of democracy – that voters will select candidates who represent their interests – is turned on its head. If our political leaders truly care about “protecting democracy,” they may do well to start with ending open primaries for good.

Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.            

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Tim D.
5 months ago

If you want to stop enabling Democrats to rig and cheat in elections, you will start with closed primaries in your state. Here in Florida we have closed primaries for this simple reason, Republicans
vote Republican and Democrats vote Democrat. PERIOD!! Open primaries are kind of like asking the wolf and the sheep what they each want for dinner, duh?

5 months ago

Political parties are private entities whose dues paying members should choose their candidates at their party’s expense. Taxpayer funded primaries are corporate welfare.

5 months ago

My consistent issue with “primary elections” is the price tag. I cannot understand why “We the People” are required to bear the cost twice, in order to select a candidate once. I’ve never been part of a “caucus” system. I simply believe it is encumbant on the various parties to select their best offering, bear the expense of that selection process, then place that candidate before the public for the general election. In this manner, the “parties” would, over time, establish a track record for the quality of candidate they select

5 months ago

I currently live in Missouri. As a young voter, I cast my ballot in Illinois. As I recall the primary system in Illinois, should I choose a Republican ballot, this cycle, I must wait at least 2 cycles before I am allowed to choose a Democrat ballot.

5 months ago

In Nevada, there were petitioners out asking people if they would sign their petition to make voting less restrictive in Nevada by allowing any voter to pick any canadate in an election.Several people stepped up to sign their petition. Then I asked the petitioner to define whether it was the primaries or a final election and then stated that we are already allowed to vote for any canadate in an election, city, county, state or national. Only primaries are selective to allow voting by party affiliation, so which election are you petitioning? The answer, after a lot of himming and hawing,, was primaries. They were trying to get signatures to allow ballot stuffing so, the opposition party could try to elect a less effective opponent. President Roosevelt’s father was almost correct when he made this statement: “I have never met a horse theif that wasn’t a Democrat, but not all democrates are horse theifs.” To correct the statement add, until now!

Nobody’s Business
5 months ago

That’s why I will no longer talk to my Democrat friends because if they are fine with cheating , lying . And going after people violently that they disagree with, that tells you a lot about their character.

Roger Wiley
5 months ago

Well said! I applaud your stance. My circle of friends is small and conservative. I am often “taken aback” by the vitriol I encounter from the few liberal family members I have. I’m not sure I want them to visit if I ever enter “hospice care”.

5 months ago

SAVE THE U.S.A…arrest all demonrats, socialists, and commies to death row for treason!… It’s time to declare open warfare on the loonie lefties!

5 months ago

You would think by now that most members of the RNC leadership and GOP majority legislatures would have realized that the Democrats can and will leverage any opportunity to “nudge” the outcome of a vote in their favor. The idea that some Democrat voters would game the system to help eliminate a potential political enemy from contention should not be something that comes to a surprise to anyone. It is either sheer stupidity or an incredible lack of foresight by the Republican leadership at the state and national level to NOT close these types of flaws in the voting system.

Tom Claridge
5 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

Republicans are their own worst enemies and are often late to the party as the Dems discover
new and often successful ways to obstruct, waylay candidates they fear, spread ballots all over,
get the dead to vote etc etc. You see the Dems are professional politicians most work have, like
Joe Biden, never had a job only belonging to the “church of socialism” and the Democrat Party.
Sadly bit bt agonizing bit they ARE winning. You’ll note they have taken over DC with some 85%
of Gov’t employees hard core Dems. They control the DOJ & FBI and all manner of seemingly
inconsequential orgs. NPR (Nat’l Pub. Radio) for example is a haven for leftist thinking and all
the broadcasts & Programming have long since gone far left run by the far left. I fear that the
next two elections of ’22 & ’24 are the last chance to stop the Dems from the total takeover
they thought they had within their grasp but lost in 2016 but reversed in 2020 with an election
that featured “all-of-the-above” all in effort to subvert the election and stop Trump which they
succeeded in with nearly every trick in the book ballot harvesting, massive ballot mailings,
the above primary packing, counting irregulars, etc etc etc. Little bit here little bit there they
edged out Trump in a few states by abt 45K votes. FEAR 2022 & 2024 as arrests and jailing
of “enemies” will likely follow Democrat wins through fraud and cheating!

Bill on the Hill
5 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

I agree Paul, just another trick in the Democrats toolbox for cheating in all of our elections…The RNC is another problematic issue that needs to be dealt with, with respect to people like Ronna McDaniel’s, they should have dumped her long ago. I will NOT ever donate to the RNC, knowing full well the donations they receive also supports the RINO’s within the party…
The Republican Party as a whole needs to be all in rooting out the Democrats sleazy way of doing business…
Bill… :~)

5 months ago

Closed primaries won’t work because people need the ability to be able to switch parties. I doubt the lockout period could be more than a year ahead, if that. You might stop some last minute shenanigans but mostly you’ll just force the party machines to plan ahead for these kinds of things.

5 months ago

Is Ranked Choice coming to an election near you soon???

5 months ago
Reply to  Art

I hope not!

Joy Streater
5 months ago
Reply to  Art

i hope not.. that is a nightmare!!

Myrna Wade
5 months ago

Would it be possible to make primaries a contest based only on what the candidates advocate? No label of party, just have each candidate state/write what the future action should be. Let voters pick the candidate who will speak out for and vote for the best future. After they all report to Congress, they will select the group. (Democrat or Republican I hope, not socialist, not communist, not environmentalist I would hope. But I think we could predict party from goals.)

5 months ago
Reply to  Myrna Wade

Candidates lie enough as it is. They’d just lie about their positions. By voting for the person you get the chance to decide if you believe them or not.

5 months ago
Reply to  Myrna Wade

So you think political candidates won’t blatantly lie in order to win votes and then once elected do the exact opposite? Have you NOT been paying any attention at all to politics for at least the last 50 to 75 years? It’s a common practice by at least half the politcians out there. Do you honestly think the speeches most politicians give are even written by them or in many cases, even articulate their real values? Most hire professional political writers to draft every sppech they’ll give in public.

Bill T
5 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

Just listen to the hypocrite and fraud we have to watch purposely dismantle our country and all our constitutional rights, 2nd amendment will be a colossal disaster if they even attempt to banish our rights to bear arms, he’ll try to take away everything in his power why he still can

5 months ago
Reply to  Myrna Wade

Look at the 14 RINOS who are possibly voting for Red Flag Law. How many of them did you think were RINOS even though they claim they’re Republicans?

5 months ago

When I lived in NC long ago, there were few Republicans running in primaries so my family registered as Democrats and always voted for the Democrat least likely to beat the Republican in the general election! This kind of voting works both ways and I’m not ashamed I did this. My freedom means something to me and I’m going to protect it any way I can that is legal!

5 months ago
Reply to  Carol

I did the same, I knew who was going to win the Republican primary so I held my nose and voted for Hillary over Obama in the Texas primary (even did the “two-step” crazy thing the Dems here have. I did it because I knew how bad Obama would be and I knew Hillary would have lost in the general electoin.

Philip Hammersley
5 months ago

Cawthorn did himself him with stupid remarks and prurient photos. That said, Republicans need CLOSED primaries to limit DIMM subversion. We had a local sheriff’s election where the “winning” candidate recruited DIMMs to vote in his primary to defeat the highly-competent incumbent.

5 months ago

I do not like open primaries.
For the few times it gives our side some fun it is damaging when the other side uses it.
I hope Kinzinger and Cheney retire in disgrace.

Stephen Russell
5 months ago

Yes Closed primaries ( another abuse source)

Texas Resister 64
5 months ago

Does anyone else remember the year that Rush Limbaugh encouraged Republicans to do something like this with Hillary and Bernie? It cuts both ways.

5 months ago

30 years ago when I first suggested it was the time.

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