Voting is baffling this primary season. Those worries Experts.

Democracy is messy, but usually not that messy.

Take, for example, New Hampshire, where President Biden boycotted the primary election last Tuesday after the state jumped the line in the Democratic Party’s new agenda to maintain its status as the top primary in the nation. Because it would have been embarrassing if Biden had lost there, a group of supporters began telling voters that, while he may not be asking for their vote, he wasn’t. Not I want it. Could you please write on his behalf? (They did and he won.)

Next up on the primary calendar is South Carolina on February 3, but only if you’re a Democrat. If you’re a Republican there, you won’t vote until Feb. 24, after party members in Nevada have had their say.

Oh, and about Nevada: If you support Nikki Haley, you can vote for her in the state primary on Feb. 6, but your vote won’t count toward the Republican nomination. This is tied to the party’s Feb. 8 caucuses, and Ms. Haley will not take part in that process. If you support former President Donald J. Trump, you can vote for him in the caucuses, but not in the primaries. The primaries, administered by the State of Nevada, will be held by mail, while the caucuses will be held in person. That’s because the Nevada Republican Party has opposed holding primaries by mail, which is why it scheduled the caucuses in the first place.


As voters enter an election year in which many feel democracy itself is at stake, they are facing a bewildering array of dates and procedures for choosing their presidential candidates. And that’s without even getting into the long-standing snag of some states scheduling separate primaries for president and other offices, as well as special elections, which result in some voters having up to five election days.

“It’s all very confusing for us, even as people who vote,” said Virginia Kase Solomon, CEO of the League of Women Voters, which runs the voter information website

Plenty of research suggests the quagmire could reduce participation.

“Anything that disrupts voting habits will decrease voter turnout,” said Donald P. Green, a political science professor at Columbia University. “Changes to location, day and format all have a disruptive effect.”

And that disruption, said Alex Meadow,’s senior director of partnerships, could be harder to address for “voters who are newer to the process,” reinforcing the tendency of primaries to skew toward the most engaged and partisan . voters.

It also has the potential to fuel mistrust in elections – and is already doing so in Nevada.

The process splintered when the Nevada Republican Party decided to hold its own caucuses — on a different night, with ID required but no mail or early voting, and with the stipulation that ballots be counted manually. The party will award delegates to the Republican National Convention based solely on caucus results and has barred candidates from the caucuses who placed their name on the primary ballot.

So voters will have Mr. Trump as an option in the caucus but not in the primaries, and they will have Ms. Haley as an option in the primaries but not in the caucuses. No matter how much support Ms. Haley receives in the primaries, she will not be awarded any delegates to the convention, and Trump supporters receive primary ballots in the mail without her name on them.

For weeks, the party they answered the questions on social media by voters who are confused by Trump’s absence or, worse, mistakenly believe it proves the election is rigged.

Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald accused state election officials of failing to advertise the party’s caucuses in primary elections. But it seems misinformation is also at play.

Last week, Kash Patel, Trump’s former counterterrorism advisor, held a Nevada primary vote in a video interview with right-wing commentator Benny Johnson and declared, “They’re doing another election manipulation job,” complaining that Trump’s name wasn’t on the ballot – ignoring that Trump himself had chosen not to put it There.

David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said he expects “not a lot of participation, which totally defeats the purpose of (a) having a party-building caucus and (b) “being an early state.”

If confusion or misplaced anger discourages people from voting, the stakes will go beyond just the presidential candidates.

Research has shown that voting is “addictive,” meaning that once people vote, they are more likely to continue doing so. The opposite is also true: those who lose an election risk losing the habit of voting. A messy election could reverberate for years.

Political scientists have been warning this for some time. Researchers from Yale University and Tel Aviv University suggested two decades ago that having a lot of elections that aren’t seen as important — something he called “typical of the United States” — can break down voting habits because people get used to skipping them. A study in 2016 they showed that voting habits remained stronger when elections followed the same format.

“If you voted in November 2020, you are more likely to vote in November 2024; you’re not necessarily more likely to form habits that would apply to some bizarre Saturday election in primary season,” said Dr. Green, a co-author of both studies.

These models are not absolute. Some changes, such as the expansion of early and mail voting, attracted people who did not or could not cast traditional in-person votes. And many voters adapt, especially the engaged ones who are more likely to participate in primaries in the first place.

Enrijeta Shino, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama who studies voting behavior, said complications like those in this year’s primary election would likely have a greater impact if they occurred in a general election. Additionally, more people than usual have been paying attention to politics lately, and voters turned out in large numbers in 2020 even during the uprising of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Voters are extremely busy right now,” Meadow said, “and that may prevent these types of changes and shifts from having the effect that perhaps they would have had in the past in a low-intensity, low-involvement environment.”

However, this year’s competitions brought warning signs.

In New Hampshire, even as turnout in the Republican primary broke the state record, turnout in the unauthorized, Biden-less Democratic primary was lower than in the Republican primary four years ago, which, while equally uncompetitive, they had the main candidate on the list. voting paper.

Both Mr. Meadow, of, and Ms. Solomon, of the League of Women Voters and, said their websites had seen heavier traffic this year. Ms. Solomon said her organization’s website received more than four times more visitors in the first 10 days of 2024 than in the first 10 days of 2020 — most likely a sign of an electorate unusually seeking clarity.

“People come proactively looking for information,” he said, but added, “The concern for us is that you’re going to see this voter fatigue that may be showing up.”

Kellen Browning contributed to the reporting.