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US election word of the week: closed primary

 © PhotoDiscIn this series we are looking at some of the language and terminology associated with the US electoral process in the run-up to the Presidential election in late 2016. This week’s word is closed primary.

At the time of writing, Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders has just won the support of voters in Oregon by a substantial margin. Like many other states, Oregon uses the system of closed primaries in which only voters who are registered for the party holding the primary can vote: one or both parties hold closed primaries in more than half of all the states in the union.



A slightly smaller number of states hold open primaries, in which unaffiliated voters are allowed to vote for either party, while a few have hybrid primaries (also known as mixed or semi-closed primaries). Ballotpedia website explains the system thus:

In a semi-closed primary, unaffiliated voters may choose which party primary to vote in, while voters registered with a party may only vote in that party’s primary. Representing a middle ground between the exclusion of independent voters in a closed primary and the free-for-all of open primaries, the semi-closed primary eliminates concerns about voters registered in other parties from “raiding” another party’s nominating contest.

Oregon is the first state to introduce 100% postal voting, meaning that electors no longer literally go to the polls. This contrasts with the traditional voting method where primaries and caucuses are held in lively public meetings across the state.

Look out for the next post in this series. You can find past posts on the language of American politics here and here, or search for other posts in this series using the tag US politics.

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Liz Potter

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