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A top-two primary is a kind of main election in which every candidates are provided on the same major ballot. The peak two vote-getters, regardless of your partisan affiliations, development to the general election. Consequently, it is possible for 2 candidates belonging to the exact same political party to victory in a top-two primary and face off in the basic election.

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In 2020, Alaska voter approved a ballot initiative creating a top-four main for state executive, state legislative, and congressional elections. The initiative also established ranked-choice voting for basic elections for the abovementioned offices and the presidency.

A top-two major should not be puzzled with a blanket primary. In a ceiling primary, voters select one candidate every office regardless of the candidate"s partisan affiliation. The peak vote-getter from each party participating in the main then advances to the basic election.<3><4>


In 2004, Washington came to be the first state to adopt a top-two major system for congressional and state-level elections. California followed suit in 2010. In Nebraska, a top-two major system is utilized for state legislative elections. Since Nebraska"s state legislature is nonpartisan, partisan affiliation labels are not listed alongside the names of state legislative candidates. In 2020, Alaska voters approved a ballot initiative developing a top-four primary for state executive, state legislative, and congressional elections. The initiative likewise established ranked-choice vote for basic elections because that the aforementioned offices and the presidency. The map listed below identifies claims that use top-two main elections. Float over a state for added details.

claims that utilize top-two primaries because that congressional and also state-level elections State Top-two primaries Notes
Alaska correctly (top-four variant) ~ above November 3 2020, Alaska voters approved a ballot initiative developing a top-four primary for state executive, state legislative, and congressional elections.
CaliforniaYesImplemented as a result of California Proposition 14.
NebraskaYesTop-two primaries use only come nonpartisan state legislative branch races, in i m sorry the height two vote-getters in the primary face off in the general election.
WashingtonYesImplemented as a an outcome of Washington initiative 872.


Associate righteousness Clarence cutting board penned the majority opinion in Washington State Grange v. Washington State Republican Party, a situation addressing the constitutionality of Washington"s top-two major system.

On November 2, 2004, voters in Washington authorized Initiative 872 (I-872), establishing a top-two main system for Washington"s elective offices. Washington"s Democratic, Libertarian, and also Republican next filed suit versus the state, completing that the top-two major system violation upon the associational rights of political parties by denying them control over candidate endorsements. On July 15, 2005, the United states District Court for the Western district of Washington found in favor of the plaintiffs and halted implementation that I-872. The United states Court the Appeals because that the 9th Circuit affirmed the district court"s judgment on august 22, 2006. The case was appealed to the supreme Court of the unified States, which ruled 7-2 on in march 18, 2008, to turning back the ninth Circuit"s ruling, enabling Washington to implement that is top-two main system. The high court"s bulk opinion was penned by combine Justice Clarence Thomas and was join by chief Justice man Roberts and also Associate Justices john Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and also Samuel Alito. Associate justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy dissented. Thomas composed the following in the court"s bulk opinion:<5><6>

Respondents claim that candidates who development to the basic election under I–872 will become the de facto nominees of the parties they prefer, thereby violating the parties’ appropriate to pick their very own standard-bearers. ... The cons in this dispute is that ... The I–872 main does not, by its terms, choose parties’ nominees. The essence of nomination—the selection of a party representative—does not take place under I–872. The law never describes the candidates together nominees of any party, no one does that treat them together such. To the contrary, the election regulations specifically administer that the primary "does no serve to identify the nominees the a political party however serves come winnow the number of candidates to a last list of two for the general election." The peak two candidates indigenous the primary election proceed to the basic election regardless of their party preferences. Whether parties nominate their very own candidates exterior the state-run major is merely irrelevant. In fact, parties may now nominate candidates by every little thing mechanism castle choose since I–872 repealed Washington’s prior regulation governing party nominations.<7>
—Clarence Thomas

The top-two primary system was first utilized in Washington in the 2008 choice cycle. Top top June 8, 2010, voters in California approved Proposition 14, creating a top-two major system because that California"s elective offices. The top-two main system was first utilized in California in 2011.<8>

Support and also opposition


Open Primaries, a nonprofit group that defines itself as advocating because that open and nonpartisan primary systems, suggested in a 2015 write-up on that website the top-two primaries can mitigate what it describes as the disproportionate affect of politics party activists and also bolster the political strength of basic voters:<9>

closed primaries space the biggest kind of voter suppression in the country. In 75% that elections, the result is established in the an initial round the voting—the primary. In the majority of races, when a candidate wins the primary, which under a closed major system is restricted to members of their very own party, they execute not challenge a real difficulty in the November election. 75% of elected officials in this country are win office without having actually to communicate with voters external their very own party. Voters room disinterested in partisan primaries. As soon as you walk to a nonpartisan “Top Two” major system, you get rid of partisan primaries. You end the “inside baseball” aspect of vote that rotate so plenty of voters off. You have actually a public primary open to all and also a November election in between the 2 finalists.<7>
—Open Primaries

John Opdycke, president of open Primaries, made the following disagreements in support of California"s top-two primary system a 2015 opinion item for The Sacramento Bee:<10>

The reality is top-two primaries room working. Every voter in California deserve to now get involved in the an initial round of voting and is cost-free to pick candidates from any party. Politicians have to (gasp) connect with voters external their very own parties indigenous the get-go. The number of competitive choice contests has actually increased. The political parties are as solid and prominent as they have ever been, through a large difference: Now, the parties space participants, no gatekeepers. They don’t get to decide that can and also cannot vote in primaries and they don’t manage the basic election ballot.<7>
—John Opdycke

Daniel Krimm and Eric McGhee, in a 2012 report because that the Public policy Institute of California, argued that California"s top-two major system contributed to the increased presence that challengers in that state"s primaries:<11>

More incumbents faced primary challenges from within their very own party this year than they have actually on mean in the last five election cycles (42% vs. 18%). Redistricting does not totally explain this change, because incumbents in districts that adjusted a good deal were no substantially much more likely to confront a challenge than those in districts that did not adjust so much. Instead, the top-two was more than likely the more powerful cause, because it provides primary challengers a better chance of showing up in the loss election. Indeed, almost every one of the increase in primary challenges arisen in seats whereby the odds the a same-party runoff to be the best.<7>
—Daniel Krimm and Eric McGhee


Richard Winger, editor and also publisher of Ballot accessibility News, filed expert testimony in commonwealth district court the contrary Washington"s top-two major system in 2010. Winger argued, in part, the Washington"s primary system above burdens minor parties and their candidates:<12>

Any election system in the United claims in which all candidates from all parties run on a solitary ballot in the very first round for commonwealth and/or state office, and also then only the optimal two vote-getters may be on the ballot in the 2nd round, inevitably and also always method that minor party candidates will certainly never appear on the ballot in the 2nd round. The just exceptions to this statement room instances in which only one major party member operation in the first round.<7>
—Richard Winger

Rob Richie, executive director the FairVote, in a 2010 opinion item for The Huffington Post, suggested that California"s top-two major system burdened the associational rights of individuals, candidates, and also political parties:<13>

We recognize Prop. 14’s intention of moving away native the antiquated procedure of partisan primaries that today are subject come plunging voter turnout and unrepresentative electorates, yet border everyone else’s options in November. But its systems is draconian for small parties and also problematic for all parties. First, candidates just will have the ability to run through a party label just after a big number of voter register through that party — definition that numerous candidates will certainly not have actually the choice to list their true party of choice. At the very same time, a candidate deserve to register with an created party and also run with its label even if the party desires nothing to execute with that candidate.

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—Rob Richie

Peter Gemma, creating for The everyday Caller in 2017, said that "a top-two primary distorts the an interpretation of a totally free and same election," citing electoral outcomes in California as proof of this point:<14>

In 2016, as a result from one open/top two primary system, 7 of California’s 53 U.S. House contests available voters a one party choice; five of 20 state Senate contests and also 15 that 80 state Assembly races had actually two members that the same party running versus each other. California’s 2016 primary for U.S. Senate resulted in liberal democracy Kamala Harris and also Loretta Sanchez the just candidates dealing with off in the November election. This was the first time due to the fact that 1914, when straight election of U.S. Senators began, the a Republican candidate was not on the ballot in the basic election. Amongst Californians who cast a ballot critical year, 16 percent left U.S. Senate selection blank – the worst fall-off because that a California U.S. Senate choice in 75 years.<7>
—Peter Gemma

Recent legislation

The map below identifies states in which law related come the conduct of major elections has actually been introduced. Hover over a state to view the precise variety of relevant bills presented in that state. A darker shade of red indicates a greater variety of relevant bills. In those says shaded in white, appropriate bills have not to be introduced. For state-specific details, click a state in the map listed below or select a state native the drop-down food selection beneath the map. A list of state legislation will display, consisting of information about bill status and links to complete text. This information is detailed by To return to the map, click "Back" in the upper righthand edge of the legislation list.