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?


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).

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    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 '20 at 10:22
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    @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 '20 at 17:24

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 '18 at 18:51

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