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Question of the day

Tuesday, Apr 2, 2024 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Brenden Moore

In 2020, for instance, only 28% [of Illinois registered voters] voted in the primary — a low amount that can be attributed in part to Trump, as an incumbent, facing no competition on the Republican side and Biden having largely sewn up the Democratic nomination. But in the general election that November, nearly 73% of registered voters turned out, the best showing since 1992.

Sen. Dick Durbin was also unopposed in the primary that year.

We’ve seen a lot of hot takes about making changes to laws because of turnout last month. Turnout was indeed low, but Illinois had no other statewide races on the ballot besides POTUS (this happens every 12 years here). And turnout was not nearly as low as was initially reported because lots of mailed, provisional and maybe even some early ballots hadn’t yet been counted by election night.

* Even so, some folks want Illinois to become a “multi-party primary” state. Definition

A small but growing number of states hold a single primary in which all candidates, regardless of party, are listed on a single ballot. States vary in the number of candidates who advance out of this primary to the general election. For example, California and Washington use a “top-two” primary format in which each candidate lists his or her party affiliation or, in Washington’s case, a party “preference.” The top two vote-getters in each race, regardless of party, advance to the general election.

Elections for Nebraska’s unicameral, nonpartisan legislature closely mirror this process except ballots do not identify the candidates’ party. (Nebraska uses open primaries for other state offices). Alaska uses a similar system except four candidates advance to the general election instead of two.

Advocates of the “top-two” format argue that it increases the likelihood of moderate candidates advancing to the general election ballot. Opponents maintain it reduces voter choice by making it possible that two candidates of the same party face off in the general election. They also contend it is tilted against minor parties who will face slim odds of earning a spot on the general election ballot.

Other options include allowing voters to choose one candidate in each race regardless of party. Others believe voters should have the right to choose their own party ballot without anyone else knowing about it. Some states require people to register as a party member in order to vote in a primary. More here.

* The Question: Should Illinois change its primary system? Explain either way. Thanks.


  1. - In the know - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 12:30 pm:

    I would love to see a a primary ballot where I don’t have to declare party. Unfortunately, the parties don’t want that because then they can’t see what the good little boys and girls are up to and reward them.

  2. - ArchPundit - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 12:38 pm:

    No, Illinois should continue to use the party primary. Party government works and having the party involved in choosing people is important to having coherent parties. What you get if you remove the power of the party are SuperPacs and other outside funders having more influence than the party which has to actually govern. See the current GOP for examples.

    If we want to give smaller parties influence, changing primaries won’t do it–we would need to move towards proportional representation which is also a bad idea unless you go full parliament. I do support doing that, but not holding my breath.

  3. - Gravitas - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 12:42 pm:


    There is a simpler fix that does not require changing the closed primary system used in Illinois. Reduce the number of petition signatures for ballot access to manageable levels.

    Years ago, 300 valid signatures were need to for State Representatives and 600 were required for State Senators. Now, the numbers are 600 for the General Assembly and 1,000 for the State Senate. All judicial candidates for Circuit Court positions needed 500 good signatures. Today, the numbers are considerably higher for the Cook County judiciary.

    Many people do not vote in primaries because so many offices on the ballot are uncontested and, sometimes, vacant.

    If there are contested races, it turns out voters.

  4. - DuPage Saint - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 12:43 pm:

    i used to think that each party had the right to choose their candidates as they wished but maybe it is time for a change
    it would be interesting to list all the candidate for each office and have top two go against each other in the general. it would really be fun if you went all Nebraska and left off party designation
    But meddling in party primaries might destroy state parties and as bad as some parties can get is that something we want to do? Don’t we need party structure at some level?

  5. - Suburban Mom - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 12:48 pm:

    I’m fine with the current Illinois primary structure but I’m very interested in watching experiments with ranked choice voting, “jungle” primaries, and similar. Every system has its pros and cons, and I know the pros and cons of the current system really well; it’s interesting to watch other systems get road-tested and learn what their real-world pros and cons look like.

  6. - Teacher Lady - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 1:03 pm:

    No to changing the primary system.
    But also -
    “In 2020, for instance, only 28% [of Illinois registered voters] voted in the primary…”
    So, a primary was held not even a week after everything pretty much shut down because of COVID, and Mr. Moore thinks that’s because the candidates were mostly locked in?
    Just guessing here, but I think 28% turn-out is pretty good considering there was a deadly virus going around.

  7. - Proud - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 1:09 pm:

    Yes. I have never “voted” (nobody gets elected, only Parties select their candidate)in a Primary as I dont consider myself a member of a party. I have never missed a general election.

  8. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 1:12 pm:

    ===Mr. Moore thinks that’s because the candidates were mostly locked in?===

    Please try to improve your reading comprehension. He said it could be “attributed in part.”

  9. - Hannibal Lecter - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 1:28 pm:

    No. The way I see it, all of the proposed changes seem to be coming from people who don’t like the outcomes of elections as they currently are held. Sour grapes is no reason to change a system.

  10. - Give Us Barabbas - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 1:29 pm:

    I worked in state government in the Cellini years, and was always enraged by how many people were intimidated out of exercising their franchise in primaries by the requirement to declare a party affiliation. It could affect you getting hired or promoted or getting a raise. These are all things we would point to in less-free countries and criticize as undemocratic , but here, nobody bats an eye. I would like to give ranked choice voting a try as well as removing the declared affiliation rule.

  11. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 1:33 pm:

    ===but here, nobody bats an eye===

    Civil service protections have increased exponentially since the days when Cellini was running things.

    That doesn’t mean I disagree with your idea. At all.

    It’s just that most people alive today are not old enough to have worked in state or local government 40 years ago. So, try to keep your arguments rooted in reality.

  12. - Homebody - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 1:36 pm:

    Ranked choice of some kind (there are lots of variants) would be infinitely better than the current system, or the top 2 primary used in the City of Chicago as well as CA/WA.

    I’m also not opposed to having one house be a proportional representation by party, at both the state and national level. I think we would be wildly better off if the US senate was proportional representation by party slate. Suddenly you’d have Libertarians, Democratic Socialists, and more splintering the big voting blocs, and forcing more compromise, rather than two parties with winner takes all. If instead of one party with 51 seats controlling everything, you could have parties with 48, 45, and 4 and 3, suddenly you need to do some coalition building.

  13. - yinn - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 1:37 pm:

    I’m not against changing primaries for an improved, “road-tested” system as Suburban Mom put it. But I’d prioritize those efforts behind issues of ballot access, the municipal election schedule, and other factors that tend to depress turnout in general elections.

  14. - Excitable Boy - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 1:39 pm:

    Yes, I believe open primaries would force politicians to focus on issues people care about rather than whether or not they have more Ds or Rs in their vote history. While you’re at it lower signature requirements and put statewide elections back on the presidential cycle.

  15. - Donnie - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 2:00 pm:


    “Others believe voters should have the right to choose their party ballot without anyone else knowing about it.”

    In theory, I’m for an open primary - but I would shudder to think that if candidates can’t target partisan voters we would all end up getting a ton more mailers.

  16. - Carol Taylor - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 2:05 pm:

    I am concerned about big Citizens United money being used to advocate for candidates on the basis they will be the easiest to beat on election day. I would like to see fines treble the expenditure and ten years of prison labor.

  17. - cak skinner - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 2:37 pm:

    At an ALEC conference in the 1990’s a Mississippi State Rep told me that this voting system was devised to keep Blacks off the ballot.

    Princeton Professor Nolan McCarty wrote me after I informed him of that conversation as follows:

    “Yes, run-off elections have an inglorious past, so always a bit surprised that RCV advocates want to bring them back.”

  18. - thisjustinagain - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 4:04 pm:

    Yes. 1 ballot, no picking a party, just like the General Election. No forced-ranking, winners win; losers lose. (I’d do away with public primaries entirely, since they are really a political party function at taxpayer expense, but the law changes would be fought by both major parties).

  19. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 6:51 pm:

    No. But, I would like to see ranked choice voting and I would like to see the petition requirements lowered. I would also like to see the cut-back amendment repealed; having three state reps from each senate district with a max of two from any party would allow more diverse representation; it might even result in some 3rd party folks being elected.

  20. - I.T. Guy - Tuesday, Apr 2, 24 @ 7:41 pm:

    As an independent I want to be able to pick between qualified candidates in the general. This increase the chances of that.

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