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Top 10 States for Independent Voter Registration in 2024

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Created: 24 January, 2024
Updated: 08 February, 2024
7 min read

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

 

In the wake of the New Hampshire primaries, much of the discussion in the national press is about the race being a done deal. It doesn't matter who is still in, it's Trump versus Biden again -- something most Americans didn't want.

Going into New Hampshire, IVN covered the DNC's direct message to voters that their votes don't matter. Yet, both parties say this to every voter in the country when they decide an election is essentially over after two states.

It may not be so explicit on the Republican side this time around, but the party's leadership wants the presidential nomination process to be over as quickly as possible so they can focus on the general election just like the Democrats.

Both parties aren't concerned about the nuances in voter preferences. They only care about protecting their interests -- and this leaves most voters on the sidelines, especially half the country that identifies as independent.

The story out of New Hampshire that isn't getting as much coverage now that the results are in is the impact registered "undeclared" voters had on the outcome. 

"Undeclared" is New Hampshire's designation for independent voters. The state only officially recognizes two parties, the Republican and Democratic Parties. Anyone who wants to register outside the parties is treated like an "other."

New Hampshire has one of the largest registered independent populations in the country (at 40%). Independent voters outnumber members of both major parties.

And, unlike many states where independent voters outnumber one or both major parties, they have the option to participate in presidential primaries. Their voter registration will change when they choose a party's ballot, but they can vote.

With the DNC telling voters "don't bother," many independents chose the Republican presidential ballot on January 23. In fact, exit polls show it is the only reason Nikki Haley was remotely competitive against Trump.

exit polls

When given a voice, independents can and do have a major impact on election outcomes. Unfortunately, not every state treats these voters like they have the same voting rights as party members -- even when they outnumber both parties.

Look at the top 10 states for independent voter registrations. Many of them have closed or semi-closed presidential primaries / caucuses that either shut out independent voters completely or place a heavier burden on their right to vote.

Nearly all of them also have taxpayer-funded closed or semi-closed primaries for state and congressional elections. These primaries are the most critical stage of the electoral process in most elections but restrict voter access.

LEARN MORE: How Do Primary Elections Work? An Overview and Legal Analysis

In 8 of the 10 states, voters registered "undeclared," "unaffiliated," "independent," or however the state designates voter registration outside officially recognized parties outnumber members of both major parties.

In all 10 states, independent voters outnumber members of at least one party. Yet, despite being the political majority in these states, they are treated like second-class voters in nearly all elections.

Here are the top 10 states for independent voter registration:

10. Iowa

Iowa is another state known for its caucuses. In fact, it holds the prestigious title of being the first-in-the-nation presidential contest, which gives it nonstop election coverage and the attention of the entire country. 

State law also requires voters to be registered with a political party to vote in its primary elections for all other races. Voters can change their voter registration at the polls, but the right to an equal vote is conditioned on being a party member.

For this reason, Iowa primaries warrant the designation of being closed.

There is an important distinction between this closed primary status and semi-closed rules that allow independent voters to participate but change their voter registration after they vote -- like in New Hampshire. Iowa requires party membership first.

Independent voters make up 34.31% of the registered voting population as of November 2023. They outnumber registered Democrats and almost outnumber both major parties.

9. North Carolina

North Carolina conducts open partisan presidential primaries. However, in state and congressional elections it uses a semi-closed process in which voters are generally told they need to join a party to vote.

Independent voters make up 36.11% of the registered voting population as of November 2023. They outnumber members of both major parties.

8. Oregon

Only registered party members can participate in the state's primary elections across the board, including in the presidential election. Independent voters make up 37% of the registered voting population as of November 2023. They outnumber both major parties.

7. New Jersey

For all elections in New Jersey, both presidential and non-presidential, the state conducts closed primary elections, despite registered independents being the second-largest voting bloc in the state.

In 2014, the Independent Voter Project spearheaded a lawsuit that challenged the closed primary system on constitutional grounds, asserting that the state's electoral process gave the parties and their members a decided advantage at the expense of the voting rights of independent voters.

The lawsuit made it all the way to the US Supreme Court. The justices chose not to hear the case.

Independent voters make up 36.39% of the registered voting population as of November 2023. They greatly outnumber registered Republicans and almost outnumber registered Democrats as well. 

6. New Hampshire

New Hampshire conducts what can best be described as semi-closed primary elections. Registered party members can only vote in their respective party's primaries. Voters registered undeclared can choose either party's ballot during the primaries.

Their voter registration changes when they cast a ballot, but they can redeclare their undeclared status at their polling location. This applies to presidential and non-presidential elections.

Independent voters make up approximately 40% of the registered voting population as of November 2023. They outnumber both major parties. 

5. Connecticut

Connecticut has closed primary processes for non-presidential and presidential primary elections. State law explicitly stipulates that voters must be registered with a political party to participate in the primaries -- though parties can permit unaffiliated voters to participate.

The legal stipulation that voters have to be registered with a party is what makes it a closed primary state.

Independent voters make up 42% of the registered voting population as of November 2023. They outnumber both major parties. 

4. Rhode Island

Rhode Island conducts semi-closed primaries in which party members can only vote in their respective party's primaries. Unaffiliated voters can cast a ballot in the party primary of their choice, but their voter affiliation will change to that party. If they vote in person, they can request a “disaffiliation form” to return to their "unaffiliated" status. 

Independent voters make up 46.11% of the registered voting population as of November 2023. They outnumber both major parties. 

3. Colorado

Colorado utilizes semi-open presidential primaries for both president and non-presidential elections. Registered unaffiliated voters can pick between a Republican and Democratic ballot while party members receive a primary ballot for their respective party's primary.

Independent voters make up nearly half (over 47%) of the registered voting population. They outnumber both major parties. 

2. Alaska

Alaska is the only state on this list with a nonpartisan primary system for non-presidential elections. This means all candidates and voters participate on a single primary ballot and Alaska's nonpartisan rules advance the top four vote-getters to general elections that use ranked choice voting.

Alaska's presidential preference process, however, is semi-closed. The parties decide what type of preference election they want and who can participate. Generally speaking, voters are told to join a party if they want to express their preferences in presidential elections. 

Independent voters make up 60% of the registered voting population as of November 2023. They outnumber both major parties. 

1. Massachusetts

Massachusetts conducts semi-closed primaries for all elections. As it pertains to this state's election laws, party members can only vote in their respective party's primary, but independent voters can participate on the primary ballot of their choice. 

Independent voters make up nearly 62% of the registered voting population as of November 2023. They outnumber both major parties. 

Do you know the registration breakdown and primary rules in your state? Check out the Independent Voter Project's primary map for more information.