Progressive era reformers began adopting primaries for state and federal offices to steer control away from political machines and party bosses, and to return power to the voters in the nomination process. Prior to this point, party insiders nominated candidates through a caucus.


In response to the growing progressive movement, 25 of the 48 states create presidential primary laws. These laws are meant to give voters more control over the nomination of Presidential candidates and build a more transparent electoral process.


All but 4 states adopt the direct primary for some or all statewide nominations.


The Supreme Court in Nixon v. Herndon invalidates a Texas statute barring black participation in party primaries.


Nebraska pioneers the first state-wide nonpartisan primary. Instead of separate, partisan primaries to select Republican and Democratic nominees to the state legislature, Nebraska adopts a single, nonpartisan primary for state legislative races. The top two candidates, regardless of party, advance to the general election. Republican Senator George Norris, the architect of the system, declared: “Men in the legislature, elected on a partisan political platform, are inclined to follow the bidding and the dictates of party machines and party bosses-not the people.”


Private citizens in Houston challenge a Texas Democratic state convention resolution banning African Americans from participating in the Party’s primary. In Grovey v. Townsend, a unanimous Supreme Court upholds the regulation, finding that the Democratic Party is a private organization whose state convention could determine membership qualifications.


In Smith v. Allwright, eight justices on a Supreme Court with several new members overturned the Grovey decision. The majority concludes that several state laws made the Texas primary more than just a function of a private organization. Instead, these laws made it an integral component of the electoral process. As a consequence, the court ruled, it was unconstitutional to prohibit African Americans from voting in the Democratic primary, including votes for party officials.


All but 5 states adopt a Presidential primary model.


California voters pass Proposition 198, the Open Primary Act, which creates a Blanket Primary System. The measure passes with 59% of the vote.


The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Proposition 198, California’s Blanket Primary System, in California Democratic Party v. Jones. Other states with the blanket primary–Alaska and Washington–were forced to abandon it.


Michael Bloomberg runs for New York City mayor on the Republican and Independence tickets. His first public event is a press conference on the steps of City Hall announcing his support for nonpartisan municipal elections for NYC.


Mayor Bloomberg empanels a Charter Revision Commission, which after months of public hearings, opts to place a referendum on the ballot for nonpartisan municipal elections. The entire New York City political establishment opposes the measure, and it fails to pass, receiving 35% of the vote.


Spearheaded by the Grange–an agricultural group rooted in conservative values of liberty and charity–Washington state voters pass Initiative 872 with 60% of the vote. This creates a “top two” system in Washington, which is in response to the Jones decision which ruled the blanket primary unconstitutional.

California voters reject Proposition 62, a proposed nonpartisan, Top Two initiative, by a vote of 46% for and 54% against.


U.S. District Court of Western Seattle rules in favor of the Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian parties who sued over the implementation of Top Two, nonpartisan primaries ruling Washington’s Initiative 872 unconstitutional.


Washington state brings the suit over Initiative 872 to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who upholds the previous ruling of the US District Court. Washington appeals again to the US Supreme Court.


New Hampshire Representative Pamela Manney introduces HB 196 to restrict the rights of independent voters from participating in primaries., a 501(c)(4) organization that advocates for the rights of independent voters, spearheads a successful campaign to prevent the bill from passing.


In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds Washington state’s nonpartisan, Top Two primary system. Washington holds its first primary election under the nonpartisan, top-two system. Washington State Grange v. Washington State Republican Party was a case decided by the Supreme Court in 2008. The case was brought by Washington’s Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian parties, which alleged that the state’s top two system prevented political parties from determining which candidates they would endorse, violating the parties’ associational rights as expressed in the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. On March 18, 2008, the court ruled 7-2 that Washington’s top-two primary system did not infringe upon political parties’ associational rights, allowing the top-two primary system to stand.

In Oregon, Top Two open primaries fails at the ballot box. Led by former Secretaries of State Phil Keisling and Norma Paulus, Proposition 65 is opposed by both major political parties and the public sector unions and fails to pass, receiving 38% of the vote.

In Idaho, a faction of the Republican Party files suit to compel the state to enact closed primaries and partisan voter registration. They claim that the state’s system of nonpartisan voter registration and open primaries violates the Republican Party’s associational rights.


In Pennsylvania, Rep. Eugene DePascuale introduces legislation to allow Pennsylvania’s independent voters to participate in party primaries. Independent Pennsylvania activists mobilize grassroots support and organize a lobby day in Harrisburg, but the bill stalls in committee.

The U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division rules invalid on a referendum to enact nonpartisan municipal elections for local elections. The referendum was originally passed by the citizens of Kinston, NC, a majority African American community. Loretta King, acting Assistant Attorney General, states “the elimination of party affiliation on the ballot will likely reduce the ability of blacks to elect candidates of choice.” Independent activists and organizations mobilize media and grassroots support against the DOJ ruling, challenging the premise that black voters are only empowered through the Democratic Party. The Justice Department withdraws its objection in 2011.


California voters, led by a coalition of Gov. Schwarzenegger, Lt. Gov. Maldonado, the AARP, the Chamber of Commerce, the California Independent Voter Project, and Independent Voice. Org, pass Proposition 14, which brings Top Two open primaries to California. The minor parties stand with the two major parties in opposition. The measure wins 56% support. In championing top two nonpartisan primaries, Republican Governor Schwarznegger declared: “Let voters vote for the candidates they want, not just the ones the parties tell us we have to choose from.”

NYC Mayor Bloomberg impanels another Charter Revision Commission to explore changes to the city’s primary system. The Citizen’s Union, which opposed the measure in 2003, changes its position and endorses nonpartisan municipal elections. Despite a growing chorus of support, The Charter Revision Committee decides against putting a nonpartisan municipal election proposal to a vote on the 2010 ballot.

In South Carolina, a faction of the GOP files suit to compel the state of South Carolina to close primary elections, which have been open since the dismantling of Jim Crow in the mid 1960’s. secures defendant-intervenor status for a diverse group of organizations and individuals, including 13 African-American elected officials, independent activists, and pro-open primaries conservatives. The federal court rejects efforts by the GOP to win a summary judgment motion.


In Kentucky, Rep. Jimmy Higdon introduces open primary legislation. The fight around the bill receives national media attention. The bill passes the Senate but loses in the Assembly.

After three years of litigation, the US District Court of Idaho rules that the Idaho GOP has the right to close their primaries. The state of Idaho is compelled to enact partisan voter registration and closed primaries.


In Arizona, a coalition of Independents, Democrats, and Republicans join forces to support Proposition 121, a nonpartisan, Top Two open primary measure. Though supported by the Arizona Republic, Prop 121 is tied up in court by a frivolous lawsuit, opposed by both parties, the League of Women Voters and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and loses 66% to 33%.


The Democratic Party of Hawaii challenges the state’s open primary as a violation of their First Amendment right to free association because all voters, regardless of political party, can participate in choosing the party’s candidates for general elections. The party argues that only voters who affiliate with the Democratic Party before primaries should be able to participate. U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright issues a written order that concludes the party failed to show the open primary is a “severe burden” on its free association rights and made assumptions about voter behavior without presenting evidence. Hawaii’s open primary system is upheld as constitutional.


Oregon voters reject Measure 90, a nonpartisan, Top Two ballot measure, by a 36% margin.

The coalition, founded by the Independent Voter Project and, files a federal lawsuit challenging the taxpayer funding of closed primary elections. The New Jersey constitution states that public funds should not be expended on the activities of private organizations. The case loses.

Congressman John Delaney of Maryland sponsors the Open Our Democracy Act in the House. The bill includes a measure to bring nonpartisan, Top Two primaries to every congressional race in every state. The bill dies in committee.

After a contentious Senate race in which incumbent Republican Thad Cochran mobilized African American voters to defeat Tea Party hopeful Chris McDaniel in the GOP Primary, Mississippi Secretary of State Hosemann commissions a study to explore improving the state’s election system.


State Senator Chris McDaniel introduces a bill in an attempt to close Mississippi primaries. The bill is strongly opposed and eventually dies in committee.

Mississippi Secretary of State’s Committee to Review Election Laws recommends a move to nonpartisan, Top Two primaries in Mississippi.

State Senator Dave Holt introduces a bill in the Oklahoma State Legislature to bring nonpartisan, Top Two Primaries to his state.

State Rep. Max Gruenberg introduces HB 17 to the Alaska State Legislature, his third attempt to bring nonpartisan, Top Two to state primaries.

State Rep. Mike Fortner introduces HB 2719 to the Illinois General Assembly, calling for a nonpartisan, Top Two primary.

U.S. Representative John Delaney reintroduces the Open Our Democracy Act, which calls for the use of nonpartisan primaries for all congressional races. All bills fail.


A diverse coalition of South Dakota leaders place a referendum on the ballot to enact top two nonpartisan primaries. Nebraska legislators, many of whom have family and business relationships in South Dakota, campaign aggressively for the measure, doing several speaking and media tours in the state. The ballot measure receives 45% of the vote despite vigorous opposition from the ruling Republican Party.


Florida CRC process

New Mexico: The Thornburg Foundation to support a first of its kind lawsuit against New Mexico’s closed primaries based on the state constitution’s anti-donation clause which prohibits public funds being used for private purposes. We partnered with a former attorney general Paul Bardacke and filed our initial complaint. In 2019, we drafted several additional legal replies and an Order of Mandamus asking the New Mexico Supreme Court to hear the case immediately. The Court ruled against such, but did not rule on the merits of the case. Both our financial and local legal partners, under significant political pressure, did not wish to proceed. In order to preserve our arguments, we have withdrawn the case in the hopes of bringing a similar action in a state with local actors able to withstand such pressures.

Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Academy, the state’s most prestigious public policy center, publishes their annual policy recommendation report. The top issue on their list for 2018 action was moving to a nonpartisan top two open primary system.

At the annual meeting of the DNC in Chicago, delegates vote in favor of incorporating some of the demands from Sanders delegates to have a more open primary process. While the party backs away from allowing independents to participate in Democratic primaries, even in closed primary states, they pass a measure asserting: “When employing government-run voting systems, it is important for State Parties to resist attempts at voter suppression, disenfranchisement, and ensure an open and inclusive process. These efforts include revising State Party rules and encouraging administrative rules, legislation, or considering litigation to: allow same-day party switching for the Democratic presidential nominating process or to achieve state laws that allow voters to switch parties at least as late as the deadline for registering to vote.”


Maine: OP Worked with Open Primaries Maine to support legislation to open the primaries to all voters, LD 211, which was introduced by Rep. Kent Ackley. Our work focused on helping develop strategy, organizing grassroots and grass tops support and raising awareness through social and earned media campaigns. The bill had a hearing in the Maine House of Representatives with over 40 local activists attending and strong media coverage. The legislation garnered strong bipartisan support, including Senate President Troy Jackson and fell just two votes short of passage in the Maine Senate. It was the first open primaries bill to receive a floor vote in that chamber.

Missouri; We developed a campaign to fight legislation-HB 26- attempting to close the state’s open primary. We created a campaign landing page and launched a statewide Twitter and Facebook advertising campaign to drive traffic to the site. We generated 7,034 emails to legislators. 38 different legislators received emails urging them to vote no on HB 26. Multiple legislators called us to complain that they were being inundated with emails. Using patch though calling, we produced 50 patch calls to legislators in each of 35 target Assembly districts and left 12,000 voice mails with a 30 second recording encouraging people to contact their representative. We engaged in email and social media campaigns that identified 565 activists, of which 150 sent letters to the editor we helped draft. We reached out to several national and state organizations, including the state Bar Association to reach out to members to vote no. We generated several editorials in opposition to the bill. HB 26 was subsequently pulled from a second vote in the House and died on the floor.

The Pennsylvania Senate passes semi-open primaries legislation with overwhelming bi-partisan support – 42-8. Former Chairs of both parties speak in favor of allowing independents to vote in party primaries. The bill dies in the assembly.

Maryland: Worked closely with Delegate Lierman on introducing legislation-HB 26-authorizing the city of Baltimore to enact open primaries and ranked choice voting. Helped craft the legislation and message its introduction. Open Primaries staff testified in support before the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill did not proceed out of committee.


A ballot measure for top four open primaries, ranked choice general elections, and dark money disclosure, passes with 51% of the vote in Alaska.

A municipal ballot measure to dismantle partisan primaries in city elections and enact a system of nonpartisan primaries with approval voting and a top two general election passes with 70% in St. Louis.

A ballot measure to establish top two open primaries for state elections in Florida receives 57% of the vote, 3% shy of the 60% required to pass. The measure is sued by both the Democratic and Republican Parties before the election, but the court refused to disqualify it. Both parties campaign against it. The highest vote totals in favor – over 60% support – come from diverse counties, including several counties that broke dramatically for Trump (the panhandle) and Biden (southeast florida).


Closed primary efforts defeated in New Hampshire, West Virginia, Virginia, etc.

Maine: In a historic bipartisan vote, the Maine legislature passed a semi-open primary bill, allowing independent voters – 32% of all Maine voters-the right to pick a party ballot and vote in primary elections for the first time. Sizable numbers of Republicans joined with a majority of Democrats to pass the bill 27-7 in the Senate, with passionate floor speeches in support from members of both parties. That momentum washed over the House and directly led to a 92-52 vote in that chamber.
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