The Primary Problem

How a small minority of voters wind up deciding the vast majority of the U.S. House in partisan primary elections — which reduces voter choice, voice, and representation before a single vote is cast in November.

THe Primary Problem Explained

In 2022,83%of the U.S. House was elected by just8%of Americans.

Despite tens of millions of voters casting ballots in the 2022 general election, a staggering 359 of 435 U.S. House seats were effectively decided months ago by just 8% of voters nationwide.

8%

of U.S.
Voters
20M / 257M Voting Age Americans

83%

of U.S.
HOUSE
359 / 435 Seats in the U.S. House
Decided in a Primary with 2+ candidates
Decided in a Primary with only 1 candidate.
Decided in the General Election

A Nationwide Cross-Partisan Problem

The Primary Problem is not isolated to one part of the country nor to one party or the other. Of the 83%of races decided in the 2022 primary elections for U.S. House,38%were won by Democrats and45%were won by Republicans before the general election was held.

38%

of 2022 U.S. Houseseats won in primary elections
165 / 435 U.S. House Seats
194 / 435 U.S. House Seats

45%

of 2022U.S. Houseseats won in primary elections

The Impact

The result of the Primary Problem is a Congress that is accountable to only a sliver of voters instead of their entire district or the country at large. This reduces the choices voters have on the ballot, limits millions of voters from participation, and distorts political representation in Washington.

Reduces Choice

Of the 435 races in 2022, 129 seat were effectively uncontested with only one candidate for voters to choose from in dominant party primaries.

Limits Participation

13 million voters not registered with either major party were barred from participating in closed party primaries across 9 states.

Distorts Representation

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The Solution

A powerful solution to combat pernicious polarization that distorts representation is to replace partisan primaries with nonpartisan primaries — in which every candidate runs on a single ballot,
all voters can participate, and the top finishers advance to the general election, where whoever earns majority support wins.

In 2020, Alaska became the first in the nation’s history to pass the innovative reform of top-four, nonpartisan primaries and ranked choice general elections: a system that provides greater choice and voice for voters and, in turn, sets the state on a course toward better elected representation and political accountability. The power in the reform lies in not just who is elected, but how they’re elected. 

Deep Dive: The Solution in Alaska

The State of Primaries

Four states are the furthest along the road to solving the Primary Problem: Alaska, California, Louisiana, and Washington have scrapped partisan primaries in favor of elections that give all voters the right to cast a meaningful vote for who represents them in Congress, regardless of party.

In the three that have held nonpartisan primaries (AK, CA, and WA), turnout and electoral competition exceeds the national average. Alaska voters participated in the nation’s first ever top-four nonpartisan primary this year, which was followed by an instant runoff in the general election.

Top-Four Nonpartisan Primary
Top-Two Nonpartisan Primary
No Primary
Open Primaries
Semi-Open Primaries
Closed Primaries

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