Frequently Asked Questions
The Democratic and Republican Parties are required to use primary elections to choose their candidates for the general election. Although it is up to the parties to decide who may vote in their primaries, generally only registered voters affiliated with the Democratic or Republican Parties may vote in that party's primary election.
What is the difference between an open and closed primary election?
An Open Primary is a primary election that does not require voters to be affiliated with a political party in order to vote for partisan candidates. In traditional open primaries, voters may select one party's ballot and vote for that party's nomination.
A Closed Primary is a primary election where voters choose candidates who are affiliated with the same political party to run in the general election. This system deters "cross-over" voting by members of other parties, which preserves a party's freedom of association and ensuring that only members of the party influence who is nominated for that party.
Is Maryland a closed primary state?
Generally, Maryland has closed primary elections, therefore, voters must be affiliated with either the majority or minority political party to vote in the primary. However, if there are non-partisan offices that are included on a primary election ballot (i.e. school board), any voter can vote for these offices.
State law allows political parties to choose whether to hold an open or closed primary. If a political party chooses to open their primary election, they must provide notice to the State board of Elections six months before the primary election is held.
Do I have to affiliate with a political party? Can I vote in the primary election?
No, you do not have to affiliate with a specific party. If you choose to not select a political party on your voter registration application, you will be "unaffiliated" with any political party. Due to Maryland having closed primaries, unaffiliated voters will generally not be able to vote in party primary elections, but they will be able to vote in any nonpartisan primary election that is held in their jurisdiction (i.e. selecting nominees for the board of education).
May I change political parties?
Yes, except during the 21 days prior to the Primary Election.
For the 2020 Primary Election, the deadline to change your party affiliation is Tuesday April 7, 2020. (5 pm at the election office or 11:59 pm - online)
If a party affiliation change request is submitted past the deadline, the local board will be unable to process the request until registration reopens; this means that the party affiliation change will not go into effect until after the Primary Election.
To change your party affiliation use Maryland's Online Voter Registration System (OLVR) or submit a Voter Registration Application or written request (signature required) to your local election office.