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Blanket Primary

A blanket primary is a primary election whereby each voter can select one candidate per office regardless of party.

This primary is different from open or closed primaries, which require each ballot to only feature votes for candidates from one party.

In a blanket partisan primary, one candidate from each ballot-qualified party is guaranteed a spot in the general election.

The terms blanket primary and jungle primary are often conflated; however, a jungle primary guarantees general election spots to the top two candidates of any party.

Pros and Cons

Supporters of the blanket primary suggest that it reduces partisanship by allowing voters to avoid party registration.

Voters in a blanket primary can stay independent, nonpartisan, or unaffiliated without sacrificing their say in elections. Blanket primaries also allow voters from one party to select candidates from opposing parties as protests or out of concern about candidate qualifications.

Opponents of the blanket primary argue that primaries are selection processes dictated by parties rather than state governments.

Parties are also concerned that protest voters warp the selection process, undermining voter options in the general election.

As of February 2020, no states used the blanket primary system.

Three states — Alaska, California, and Washington — used this system in the 20th century. Alaska voters approved the blanket primary in 1947. In 1996, Californians approved a switch from a closed primary to a blanket primary through Proposition 198. The Washington State Legislature approved a legislatively-referred initiative authorizing the blanket primary in 1935.

Use of “Blanket Primary” in a sentence

  • In a blanket primary, voters are given the latitude to cross party lines, allowing them to vote for a Democrat for one office and a Republican for another on the same ballot.
  • While blanket primaries were designed to encourage voter participation, critics argue that they can lead to strategic voting, where people vote for the weakest candidate in the opposing party to improve their own party’s chances in the general election.
  • The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against California’s blanket primary system in 2000, asserting that it violated political parties’ First Amendment right to freedom of association.