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Top 2 Primary System

Citizens Count Editor

For those voters worried about the partisan bickering that often accompanies an election, there's a partial solution: end the partisan primaries.

Instead, the state could consider switching to a "Top 2" primary election, as the states of Washington and California have done.

"Top 2" states eliminate the Republican and Democratic primaries in which the winner of each competes in November. Instead, the top two primary vote getters, irrespective of party affiliation, square off in the general election.

California adopted a "Top 2" primary measure through a statewide ballot in June of 2010. It went into effect with the June 2012 run-off election to select candidates for Congress and various state-level positions. It does not apply to presidential elections.

The state of Washington has been using a "Top 2" system since 2004. It was upheld as legal by the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2008.


For a proponent's view of the "Top 2" party system, read this op-ed opinion piece from Sen. Charles Schumer.

For an opponent's view, read this George Will column in the Washington Post.



The basic idea of top-two primaries is good.  Candidates from all party preferences to no party preference would be on the same primary ballot, and all voters would vote in the same primary with the same ballot.  Parties should act like any other interest group, and not get the state to fund their private endorsement process.   Publicly funded primaries should be more of a preliminary round of the general election.  Candidates with the most votes, regardless of party affiliation, should advance to the general election.  This would help candidates and voters alike to start thinking more independently and out of the box, towards more innovative, cooperative, and thoughtful solutions. 


Although many people are happy and report positive reviews about top-two, there have been some criticisms of top-two, as well.  Rather than just seek to implement a top-two, we should discuss ways those criticisms can be addressed, so that NH's election system is even better than top-two.  For example, today's technology could easily use ranked choice balloting, either in the primary, to more fairly arrive at the top-two, or we could advance more than the top-two to the general election, and then use ranked choice balloting in the general election to avoid a winner by plurality, or spoilers, etc.  New Hampshire is a small enough state, with enough retail politics, that we could have serious discussions about this and it could actually catch on.  For more information about challenging traditional partisan primaries, see,   To learn more about instant runoff voting and ranked choice voting, see


New Hampshire Independent Voters ( are picketing the primary elections on Sept. 9th.  Below is some information from a press release that went out.  Contact us at if you'd like to participate or get more information. 

Independents have a right to Vote and Not affiliate with a party.  We support nonpartisan primaries.

 Voting Rights are Primary

Independent voters, who are 41% of the New Hampshire electorate, will conduct informational pickets on September 9th, Primary Day, to protest the state’s partisan primary election system.  Independents have a right to vote and be completely independent of parties, and shouldn’t have to join a party in order to participate in primary elections that they help fund through their tax dollars.   

On September 9th, independents will be at:

            Derryfield Park in Manchester, near the Intersection of Bridge Street and Highland Street, from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m.  

             Nationally, this election season has seen record low turnouts in over half the states that have held primaries to date. “It’s time that partisan primary elections become a relic of the past.  Primary elections should be a true preliminary round of the general election – equally open to all voters and candidates -- not a quasi-public approval process for a private club’s endorsement,” says Tiani X. Coleman, co-chair of New Hampshire Independent Voters. 

            Dubbed “Voting Rights are Primary,” the campaign is nationally coordinated by and aims to dramatize the latest Gallup poll showing 42% of Americans are independent, yet are barred or restricted in nearly every state from full, open participation in the primary process.  Primary elections are a critical juncture in the democratic process and often the most competitive. Independents will address the partisanship of the primaries as a voting rights issue.

“Each political party is trying to close the deal, and take control of Congress,” said president Jacqueline Salit.  “Independent voters don’t want to close the deal; they want to open the primaries.  The midterm elections are not just about who goes to Washington.  They’re about who sends them there.”

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