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A dozen U.S. states, both Democratic and Republican Party led, will shut out tens of millions of voters in closed primaries this year. That number increases to almost half of all states during the presidential primary. It could get even worse.  

Just last year, Wyoming closed its primaries. Now, at least 12 states are considering or have already declared their intent to follow suit. If even some of them are successful, millions more voters will be shut out of elections in their state. The consequences to our democracy could be severe. 

At least six states have introduced legislation to close the primaries. Three states — Alabama, Missouri and Tennessee — have already passed party resolutions for closed primaries to their state agenda. The West Virginia GOP recently met in committee and announced their plan to close the primary in 2026. New states are fast joining the list; South Carolina lawmakers announced their intent to introduce legislation to close the primaries earlier this month.   

Lawmakers in Tennessee have taken a first step by enacting legislation directing that every primary polling location post signage informing voters that voting for a party they aren’t affiliated with is illegal. It’s a law that’s impossible for voters to comply with; Tennessee not only has open primaries but nonpartisan voter registration as well. Still, a Tennessee League of Women Voters lawsuit challenging the law was just dismissed for lack of standing. 

The Tennessee primary model is the most under threat. Twenty states combine an open party primary with nonpartisan voter registration. Since the state registers you without a party affiliation, every voter can choose a party ballot. That’s allowed for claims —never substantiated — that “members” of one party are improperly picking the ballot of the other party in order to cause harm. Every study of “crossover voting” has found it doesn’t happen on a meaningful scale, but even an analysis finding so in South Carolina this year hasn’t stopped the debate from raging. 

If implemented, closed primaries would deny anyone who chooses to register independently in these states the right to cast a meaningful vote. It would also mean that many voters who previously weren’t required to join a party — including sizable communities of color — would be forced to make a choice. Register Democrat in GOP-dominated states and be assured that, outside some local races, your vote doesn’t matter, or register Republican to impact who governs. This is not a partisan issue: Democratic lawmakers in closed primary states like New York have forced voters to make this choice for years. 

Perhaps the biggest upcoming threat is Texas. Texas has had nonpartisan voter registration and open primaries for decades. Now some members of GOP leadership have pushed through a proposition during the March 5 primary, meant to inform the party priorities, in support of closing the states’s primaries.  

We don’t know exactly how many independents would be shut out if Texas lawmakers go through with their threat, but we can look to its neighbors to make an educated guess. Nineteen percent of Oklahoma voters, 24 percent of New Mexican voters, 28 percent of Louisiana voters, and a whopping 44 percent of Arizona and 48 percent of Colorado voters are independent. There are nearly 18 million Texans registered to vote; even a conservative 20 percent would mean over three and half million Texans — 1 in 5 voters — barred from voting in the primaries. 

That increasingly matters because primaries are often the most meaningful election. In 2022, only 2 percent of all general election races for the Texas state legislature were competitive. That’s not unusual for many states, where general election competitiveness has been in a precipitous decline for years.  What it does mean is that it’s increasingly the primaries where the meaningful choices are for most voters. 

There’s still plenty of opportunity to shift course.  

This January, Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry called for a special session of the state legislature with the goal of closing the state’s primaries. While he did succeed in moving the state from its decades-long nonpartisan “jungle primary” to a traditional party primary system, voter backlash over the disenfranchisement of independent voters — including over 200,000 black independent voters — forced him to keep the primaries open to every voter. Similarly, multiple attempts by some lawmakers to use litigation to close the primaries in Colorado have failed, including a recent setback by a federal court just weeks ago. 

Voters have much to lose from closed primaries that shut out millions while forcing everyone else into partisan boxes. Let yourself be heard — let all voters vote!  

Jeremy Gruber is the SVP of Open Primaries, a national election reform organization and an author of “Let All Voters Vote: Independents and the Expansion of Voting Rights in the United States.”   

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