A semi-closed primary system only semi-works

How it works

So how does Utah’s election system work, anyway? Utah has a closed and semi-closed primary system. That means:

To vote in the Republican primary, where 81% of election winners are chosen, you have to be a registered republican. This is a closed partisan primary and limits participation in the primary that matters most.

To automatically receive a Democrat primary ballot, you have to be a registered Democrat. If you are unaffiliated, you can request a Democrat ballot without registering. This is a semi-closed partisan primary.

What about everyone else? If you are unaffiliated, you will receive in the mail a ballot with only non-partisan races. If you register as an R or request a D ballot, then and only then are you invited to vote for most of the races. Why can’t we all just vote for the candidate we like the most?

This system leaves out too many voters. Many Utahns feel they have to be strategic with their registration to have their vote count. Over 80% of general election winners are chosen in the Republican Primary. This means that those who are affiliated D, independent, other parties, or not registered with a political party (unaffiliated) are excluded from voting in the process where our elected representatives are chosen. In Utah, 50% of registered voters are unaffiliated or registered with a party other than the Republican party. That 50% are not allowed to participate in the election that chooses the winners in almost every case.

In Utah
of registered voters are unaffiliated or registeredwith a party other than the Republican party, and are excluded from the election that chooses over 80% of the winners

The impact

The potential impacts of Utah’s closed and semi-closed party system on our representative democracy include:

1) Limiting voter participation and choice

A closed primary system limits voter choice and participation. Many would prefer to not affiliate with a party but this excludes them from the primary process. This lowers turnout in the primary election, where winning candidates are chosen.

2) Promoting more extreme candidates

Partisan primaries promote more extreme candidates. Because the primary is often dominated by the party base, candidates feel pressure to appeal to the more extreme elements of their party to win the nomination. Candidates whose positions consider the whole of Utah may not make it through the primary, which limits voters’ choices in the general election. This leads to the common sentiment “Couldn’t we do better than this?” Due to this pull to the extremes, we have heard from many that even though they have been lifelong Republicans or Democrats, they don’t recognize their party anymore and are currently feeling “homeless.”

3) Policies passed not matching Utahn’s positions

When comparing polling done to measure Utahns’ feelings on issues to the policies that are passed in Utah, we see that many of the policies being passed are not in line with what the majority of Utahns care most about. Policies out of alignment with the people is a concern of the current system.

There is HOPE!

We believe that EACH VOICE MATTERS!

Our programs offer you the opportunity to increase your confidence in using your voice to influence change.


We are committed to strengthening your voice, but if the system excludes your votes, your strength won’t make a big enough difference. This is why, in addition to our programs focused on individuals, we also advocate for all voters being invited to participate in choosing their elected leaders—the foundational ingredient of a representative democracy. This requires an Open Primary, which would mean all candidates and all voters go to one ballot, regardless of party affiliation.

Open primaries allow...

Open Primaries allow voters from ALL parties, or no party, to participate in the primary election. This means they can select their preferred candidate from a broad range of affiliations.

Open primaries promote...

Open Primaries promote transparency and accountability in the election process because candidates are obligated to speak to and listen to all voters, not a small minority of Utah’s voters.

Open primaries work...

Open Primaries also work to minimize polarization and division within the electorate. It encourages the formation of coalitions across different parties and ideologies, which can lead to more comprehensive and effective policymaking.

By promoting collaboration and compromise, open primaries create a more inclusive political environment that serves the interests of a diverse range of people, “for their equal protection and benefit.” (Utah Constitution, article 1).

People4Utah exists to amplify your voice. We have heard a clear call for changes to our current system that would invite all to exercise their right to vote in all elections. Join us and let us help you amplify your voice, increase your rights as a voter, and improve the effectiveness of our political process.