The Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committee is scheduled to
meet in special session on Feb. 7 here in Nashville to consider a closed primary resolution. If the
committee approves the resolution, it would be recommending
that the Tennessee General Assembly pass legislation to require voters
to register either as Democrat or Republican if they want to vote in a primary election.
If the legislation were passed it would mean that those registering as Democrats could vote only in Democratic primaries and those registering as Republicans could vote only in Republican primaries.
The arguments for party registration is that Democrats often vote in Republican primaries when they have no serious contest in a Democrat primary and they vote for the most moderate Republicans. Those who advocate for closed primaries say Democrats should not be picking Republican candidates. Both proponents and proponent of closed primaries agree that with a closed primary system you have fewer moderate candidates. There is also an argument that people may vote in the opposing party's primary to vote for the worst candidate of that party. I don't think that really happens very often, but it may.
Those opposed to closed primaries say that the open primary in Tennessee has served the Party well. Over the years, Tennessee has went from mostly Democrat to mostly Republican. By having open primaries, people can gradually transition from Democrat to Republican in their voting habits without consciously making a decision to switch parties. It makes it easier for people to change their political identity. Another argument for the open primary is that it is good for voter participation. When people have a say in the nominating process, they are more likely to vote in the general election. I am not persuaded by that argument however and do not think that greater participation in elections necessarily makes for a better democracy. I would just as soon that uninformed people not vote.
No doubt there are many Republicans in Democrat strongholds of Nashville and Memphis who vote in Democrat primaries and no doubt many Democrats vote in Republican primaries in East Tennessee. If you live in Nashville and want to vote for the County Constitutional offices, such as judges, sheriff, County Clerk, Register of Deeds, etc, most of the time, the Republicans do not even run candidates and to have any say in these local races, you have to vote in the Democrat primary. While I have always been a Republican, I used to regularly vote in the Democrat primary. In pockets of East Tennessee there is no Democrat party and to vote for County Executive, judges and other county officials, one has to vote in the Republican primary. Maybe if Republicans could not vote in Democrat primaries and vice versa, we would see single party areas develop a two party system.
Fourteen states including Tennessee have truly open primaries. Here are the others: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Three other states have primaries that are more open than "open" primaries. They have only one primary with candidates participating regardless of party. These states are California, Louisiana, and Washington. Several other states have some sort of hybrid system but are mostly open, in that one can declare their party affiliation the day of the election or can easily switch parties. These are Alaska, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, and Texas. So, twenty-five have an open or mostly open primary system.
Twelve states have truly closed primary systems including Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming. Some other states have semi-closed primaries which may mean that registered Republican can only vote in the Republican primary and registered Democrats can only vote in the Democrat primary but independents may vote in either primary . These states with this semi-closed system includes Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. This adds up to nineteen states with closed or mostly closed systems.
I know this does not add up to 50 states. Some states have caucus and not primaries. Some have both a caucus and a primary. Also, some of the hybrids do not fit neatly into a "mostly open" or "mostly closed" category. From information provided however, one can see that there are a variety of methods by which parties can choose their candidates and not a strong preference has emerged for one system over the other. Also, it does not appear that one system benefits one party over another. There are very "red" states in both systems and very "blue" states in both systems. Also, very ideological politicians have emerged from both open and closed systems or hybrid systems.