From a recent article about the pipe bombing suspect:

Sayoc’s voter registration in Florida lists him as a Republican, according to state records. He registered in March 2016.

I thought this was a rather curious comment, and a quick internet search revealed that at least in some jurisdictions people are asked for their party affiliation when registering to vote. For example in California it seems mandatory.

Isn't the secrecy of your vote an important principle of democracy? While the US does have a secret ballot, and I understand that registering isn't the same as voting, it seems to me that this effectively nullifies a large part of the secret ballot as few people are going to vote for a different party than the party they registered with? For example for Florida it is easy to find out which party 9.5 million of the residents voted for; which, to me, seems like an invasion of both privacy and democratic principles?

  • "For example for Florida it is easy to find out which party 9.5 million of the residents voted for; which, to me, seems like an invasion of both privacy and democratic principles?" No it isn't. In fact, outside of some extreme legal circumstances, unless the voter themself decides to initiate the process, it's effectively impossible to confirm how they voted. There is exit polling. But that's voluntary and limited coverage. The best you can do there is get an idea (probability) of how a specific voter voted. And even exit polling can be quite inexact.
    – ouflak
    Dec 9, 2022 at 11:06

2 Answers 2


TL;DR - People are asked for party affiliation so that they can vote in the primaries for the candidate that they want. Party affiliation doesn't necessarily reflect voting habits in the general election.

You can't find out which party an individual voted for. You can find out what party they are registered with.

The registration really only matters for the primaries, in most states you can only vote in the primaries of your own party (Republicans can't vote in the Democratic primaries and vice versa). (See Open primaries)

For example for Florida it is easy to find out which party 9.5 million of the residents voted for

We don't actually know who anybody voted for. During the general election (Election Day), individuals aren't limited in who they vote for. Republicans, Democrats, Independents etc. can all vote for whoever they want.

It's also important to know, that party affiliation doesn't necessarily reflect voting habits (although it usually does).

In NY or CA, Republican voters will frequently register as a Democrat, so that they can vote in their primaries (which will have more of an impact as the D candidate usually gets in).

  • 1
    Sooo, on might register one's affiliation with the other party, try to vote a bad candidate in the primaries and hope to increase your actual favourite party to win easier against that candidate in general election? I hope nobody thinks this way, though I suspect it might have been tried. Aug 4, 2020 at 10:22
  • 2
    @HagenvonEitzen actually a lot of people do this in America. Especially ones in states that generally vote for opposing political views. This allows them to both choose the "better" candidate as well as have a stronger say in local elections.
    – Welz
    Aug 4, 2020 at 17:24
  • That doesn't explain why this information is public, though.
    – gerrit
    Dec 9, 2022 at 7:39
  • And it could be solved without registering with a party (or registering at all), by organising all primaries together and issuing a single ballot to each person that they could use to vote in zero or one primaries. One could list all primary candidates for all parties on a single ballot, and the top-scoring candidate per party wins the primary.
    – gerrit
    Dec 9, 2022 at 7:45
  • @gerrit: What I think you may be missing is the fact that most politicians don't want everyone to vote in the primary. They want two homogeneous electorates comprised of people who have strong feelings about politics, not one heterogeneous electorate comprised of most everyone. This makes primaries more predictable and gives both parties stronger "branding." Of course, there's also the fact that SCOTUS wouldn't let states do that anyway.
    – Kevin
    Dec 9, 2022 at 18:29

Compared to other democracies, the US has a very limited choice during the actual election. Yes, one can vote for a third party candidate, but think about the fact that the generic term third party exists in the political discourse.

This is compensated by the fact that the candidate selection of the two big parties is very open. In most other countries, candidate selection would be left to dues-paying, card-carrying party members or even mid-level and upper-level party functionaries. And one has to apply for party membership, not register for party affilation. (Not that the parties would turn many applicants away ...)

So in a way the primaries in the US are the first stage in a two-round, runoff election process. Except that there are separate primaries for Democrats and Republicans. (Usually third parties don't matter.)

  • There are in fact primary elections for third parties (depending on the state), if more than one person files to be the party's candidate for a particular office. Doesn't often happen, of course.
    – jamesqf
    Oct 28, 2018 at 18:51
  • Not that the parties would turn many applicants away — to prevent entryism, they actually might. Entryism is probably much harder in the USA because so many people register with a political party.
    – gerrit
    Dec 9, 2022 at 7:26

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