EAST FALLS NOW ARTICLE: To open or not to open, that is the question

East Falls Now
Pam’s Viewpoint
Oct. 1, 2019

Pennsylvania is 1 of only 9 states that shuts independent voters out of primary elections.  Approximately 750,000 citizens in our commonwealth are registered as independent and because they made this choice, versus affiliating with either of the two majority parties- they are precluded from voting in primary elections.

There is a strong national movement for all states to hold some version of open primaries and that movement is happening in our state.

SB300 was voted out of the PA Senate on June 25, 2019 by a vote of 42 to 8. It is now in the PA House State Government Committee.

This bill will, on the day of the primary election, allow independent voters to choose to cast their vote on either the Republican or Democrat ballot. Voters who are registered with either the Republican or Democratic Party will continue to be required to vote on their respective ballots.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (www.NCSL.org), 16 states utilize some form of an open primary for unaffiliated voters. These states include Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah and West Virginia.

According to the website OpenPrimariesPA.org there are many positive outcomes to open primaries, including reducing polarization, ensuring accountability, and promoting competitive races.  Ironically, primaries are paid for by tax dollars, yet many voters are precluded from exercising their right to vote because they are not registered with either of the two major parties. This last point has even been referred to as taxation without representation!

My office tracks voter turnout by county for Montgomery and Philadelphia counties and that turnout, except for presidential election years, often does not exceed 20 to 25%.  Please keep in mind that is the percentage of registered voters and NOT the percentage of eligible voters.  Perhaps the low turnout can be attributed to voters feeling disenfranchised by the extremes of both major parties, who have taken control of our primary process. Perhaps citizens need a refresher course on the impact that elected officials at all levels of government have on their lives.  Regardless, allowing more people the opportunity to have a voice in their representation is an important step toward ensuring democracy.

I am trying to learn as much as possible on this topic.

Quite frankly, I was surprised to see this legislation move so quickly through the Senate with such an overwhelming majority.  We need other voting improvements: e.g. no excuse absente ballots, early voting, registering students at 16 or 17 so that they are ready to vote at 18, and extending the cutoff for registering to vote so that it is less than the current 30 days before election day.

Those reforms may also warrant serious discussion this session; in addition to pushing for those reforms, I will be giving open primaries my thoughtful consideration.

As always, I am interested in your thoughts on this topic. What do you think about changing the current system to open primaries?

Please email me at RepDeLissio@pahouse.net or call my office at 215-482-8726 with your thoughts.