Georgia’s Nonpartisan Ballots are Confusing; Georgia’s Open Primaries are Necessary

Georgia voters faced a decision in last week’s primary beyond which presidential candidate they wanted to support. In Georgia, we have open primaries, which means that we get to choose whether we vote in the Republican or the Democratic primary. True-believing die-hards from either party will rarely waver on which ballot they choose, but as increasing numbers of voters identify as “independent,” and thus nonpartisan voters, many voters determine which party’s primary they’ll vote in on an election-by-election basis.

I’m one of these independent voters, and while my recent votes in general elections are a pretty even split between Rs and Ds, anyone who takes the time to pull my personal voting record (these are public records, so knock yourself out) will see that I generally pull a Republican ballot for primaries, because in my districts, there’s rarely more than one Democratic candidate for each seat (and these are strong candidates), so unless I choose the Republican ballot, I’m not actually voting for anything besides the occasional nonpartisan ballot initiatives and judicial races. While I may identify as an independent voter – something I take pretty seriously, since I hold a nonpartisan municipal office – I know better than to ask for an official nonpartisan ballot.

For many voters, though, Georgia’s nonpartisan ballots lead to some confusion. On WABE, one anonymous voter described her experience:

“I was planning to vote for a Democrat, but I like to think of myself as open minded and not beholden to a party line,” said the 33-year-old, who wished to remain anonymous. “I was just trying to make sure my ballot represented my actual views — which turned out to be a really dumb thing to do.”

“This is super embarrassing to me because I like to think that I am a somewhat civically engaged human who understands how the voting process works,” she said. “I just thought I was better than this…”

“So I weighed in real hard on that water-sewer thing, but wasn’t able to vote for a presidential candidate, regrettably,” the voter told WABE. She said poll workers she spoke with gave the impression she wasn’t alone in her mistake.

At the end of the day, any voters who voted on a nonpartisan ballot – if it was even an option at their precinct, since some counties, including Cobb, only offered partisan ballots as there were no nonpartisan ballot issues in Cobb County last Tuesday – probably didn’t contribute all that much to the voter deficit for either Sanders or [insert not-Trump candidate of your choice].

That said, any confusion caused by the nonpartisan ballots should be easily remedied by voter education and outreach campaigns. And as there are more independent, nonpartisan voters than ever, hopefully there won’t be a push in Georgia for closed primaries that limit both independent voters, and independent thought.

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chuck shiflettDave BearseLoyaltyIsMyHonorEllynn Recent comment authors
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Here is a thought (warning – Wisconsin story – yes I know this is not Wisconsin, and no I am not catching a Delta… so’s just deal witcha fact youser stuck witch me, hey), why even publicly declare a party on the ballet sign in? When still a cheesehead, I would sign the register, the league of women voters would check it was me on two nice printed out voter rolls, and handed me a pull level card/punch card/ paper ballet and in the privacy of my own booth I could pick Republic slate or Democratic slate. I could only… Read more »


In the New England state I grew up in (and things may have changed since I left), you could register as a Dem, Rep, or Independent. Registering as an Independent allows you to choose a Dem or Rep primary ballot. You can even switch your party affiliation at your polling place on the day of the primary.

chuck shiflett
chuck shiflett

The general election held in November is where everyone can vote for their picks for each office and split it up between parties if they want. However, the primary process is the method the parties use to select their own nominees. In Georgia the Libertarians chose their candidates at a convention, while the Republicans and Democrats have chosen a public open primary. If either party wanted they could do away with public voting and pick their candidates by any method they desire… such as caucuses, conventions, closed primaries. This applies for every office from school board, county commissioner, state legislature,… Read more »

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

You sure it wouldn’t take legislation to change to a closed primary system?

chuck shiflett
chuck shiflett

State law already allows for parties in Georgia to use caucus or convention with no action needed legislatively. To go to a closed primary would require a change legislatively so that voters would be registered by party. This could be easily accomplished logistically… the next time a voter shows up to vote in a primary the voter would ask for a GOP or Democrat ballot and would then be registered for that party. Going forward the voter could only vote in that party’s primaries, but would have the option of going by the county elections office 30 days or more… Read more »