Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Independent Voters Vexed at Polls?

by Pamela M. Prah, Staff Writer

High school teacher Kari Bluff, 28, of Monterey County, Calif., is looking forward to voting in the Feb. 5 “Super-duper Tuesday” presidential primary, but she thinks it’s odd that — as an independent — she can cast her ballot for a Democrat but not a Republican.

“If I didn’t like any of the candidates on the Democratic ticket, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose a Republican candidate. However, I’m not allowed that option,” said Bluff between English classes at King City High School. “I’m glad the Dems at least allow me that privilege.”


Bluff, a lifelong independent, at least will have half a chance to weigh in on nominations in the most wide-open presidential contest in 56 years. But some 4.5 million independent voters in six states (Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Oklahoma and Utah) will be completely locked out of their states’ presidential primaries Feb. 5 because they have “closed” primaries, in which only a voter registered with the party can help choose its nominee. Most of those voters come from New York where nearly 2.4 million independent voters reside. Variations in state and party rules mean independent voters aren’t treated equally in the nomination process. And independent voters this year are shaping up as key to determining whether it’s Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton heading the Democratic ticket, and on the GOP side, John McCain, Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee.

On Feb. 5, five states have open primaries and four states have “semi-open” primaries, which generally allow independent voters to cast ballots for either party although in some states, they must register with the party on Election Day. Nine states have party caucuses or conventions. In all, primaries and caucuses in 24 states on Feb. 5 could make or break some presidential hopes in what is the earliest — and maybe the most confusing — nominating process in history.

Overall, during this presidential primary season, 16 states have closed primaries that exclude independents and 13 states have open primaries, according to the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS). The remaining states, including California, run somewhere in the middle, with varying degrees of restrictions commonly known as “semi-open” primary systems.

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