Other primary types

Other Primary Types

In addition to the above three broad categories, some states use one of the following methods to nominate candidates for Congress:

Top Two

Under "Top Two," political parties do not nominate candidates at all. Instead, all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, run on the same primary ballot. The top two vote-getters then face off in the general election, again regardless of party affiliation. This means that the general election always has exactly two candidates on the ballot, and those two candidates may be from different political parties or from the same political party.

California and Washington use Top Two for state and congressional offices. Nebraska uses a Top Two system but without party labels on the ballot at all for the election of its nonpartisan state legislature.

Top Two should not be confused with "open primaries." Open primaries retain partisan nomination while allowing any voter to participate in the nomination process for any party. By contrast, the top two system eliminates party primaries altogether, with the field winnowed regardless of candidates' party affiliation.

The Louisiana System

The Louisiana system, sometimes called the "Cajun Primary," eliminates the primary election altogether. Instead, all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, run on the same ballot in November. If a candidate receives more than half of the votes, that candidate is elected. If no candidate wins with a majority, the top two vote-getters face off in a December runoff election. Qualified absentee voters receive a ballot for the November election and a ranked ballot for the December runoff, so that they can vote as normal in the general election and then have their ranked ballot count for whichever runoff candidate they ranked highest in the runoff election.

This system mirrors a nonpartisan runoff election process used in many local elections, except with the use of party labels. Although Louisiana law refers to the election in November as the "primary" and the December runoff as the "general" election, the November election takes place on the federally mandated Election Day, and most candidates win office by receiving a majority vote in that election, so it is best understood as a general election, with the December election as a contingent runoff.

The Louisiana system is sometimes mistakenly equated with the Top Two system, but holding the first election in November and electing any candidate with more than 50% of the vote in that election makes it sufficiently distinct that it should not be understood as a mere variant of Top Two.

Blanket Primaries

Alaska is now the only state that continues to use a blanket primary. Under a blanket primary, all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, run on the same primary ballot. Then, the single candidate with the most votes from each political party will be that party's nominee in the general election. The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that states cannot require political parties to participate in a blanket primary. In Alaska, all parties except the Republican Party voluntarily participate in the blanket primary. The Republican Party has its own primary ballot, which uses semi-closed primary rules.

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