Question to the Editor: Cross-Party Voting in Open Partisan Primaries

On Twitter, I was asked the following question recently:

“I’d like to vote in the Texas primaries for Democrats at the national level – Will I be able to vote for a preferred state senate candidate in the GOP [sic]?”

This is an excellent question, the short answer to which is no. Let me explain.

Texas has an open partisan primary system. This means that voters do not have to declare party affiliation (or lack thereof) when they register to vote. The state does not keep records of who is a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, independent, etc.

Any eligible voter can participate in the primary stage of the voting process, but they must select between a Republican or Democratic ballot, or hold off to participate in the signature drive of an outside candidate to participate in the general election. Under the rules, they cannot do both.

Once a voter chooses a party ballot in the primary, they cannot vote for a candidate in the other party, even if they would like to participate in one party’s primary on the national level and one party’s primary at the state and/or local level.

Once a voter chooses a party ballot in the primary, they cannot vote for a candidate in the other party.
Texas conducts all primary elections on the same day and once a party ballot is chosen, a voter’s registration card is virtually “stamped” with that party until the next election year, meaning there is no party switching in the event of runoff elections. If a voter participates in the Democratic primary, they cannot vote on the Republican runoff ballot, and vice versa.

Voters are free to choose the other party’s primary ballot if they want in the next election year.

This can put many Texas voters in a precarious position. They have to choose which races they want to have a voice in, while sacrificing a meaningful say in others.

In a state Senate district that leans heavily Democratic, for example, voters might want to participate in the Democratic primary so they feel like their vote meant something at both stages of the voting process.

However, Texas is still a safe bet for Republican candidates for statewide office, U.S. Senate, and the presidency. So, in order to feel like they had a voice in these races, the same voter might want to choose which Republican candidates they prefer. The problem is, they can’t if they pick the Democratic ballot. There is no cross-party voting.

For the Twitter user who asked the above question, they are left with a difficult choice. There might be a Democrat they support at the national level, who they would like to see win the presidential primary or congressional seat in their district, and a Republican at the state level that they want to see move on to the general election. They can’t vote for both. They have to choose which race they want a say in.

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