June 20, 2024 11:33 pm
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Bills would open PA primaries to unaffiliated voters

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Danielle Smith, Producer

Pennsylvania is one of only seven states that shuts out independent voters from voting in primary elections.

Two bills proposing to open the Keystone State’s primary elections to roughly 1.2 million independent voters await a Senate vote.

David Thornburgh chairs Ballot PA – a project of the Committee of Seventy.

He said approval of the two bipartisan bills would be a historic step toward opening Pennsylvania’s primaries to independent voters, but further action is required for them to participate in the 2025 primary.

“We really feel like momentum is with us,” said Thornburgh. “And, again, this is not a revolutionary change. There are 43 other states that have figured out a way to do this. And, we don’t want to be the last one to include these voters because to my mind, this is a civil rights issue.”

More than 8.7 million Pennsylvanians are registered to vote.

Backers of keeping primaries closed say the political parties have the right to allow only their members to participate. But opponents say they produce candidates that are more loyal to their parties than their constituents.

Thornburgh said a very high percentage – 70% to 90% of all elections – are basically decided in the primaries, partly because most districts are heavily Democratic or Republican.

And the winners often have no opposition candidate in the fall.

He added that it’s critical for non-affiliated voters to get the opportunity to vote in the primaries.

“They have a high concentration of veterans,” said Thornburgh. “One in two veterans consider themselves independent. So the idea that we would cut out veterans from voting in elections is just unthinkable. And the other thing is young people. About two thirds of young people, 18- to 24-year-olds, consider themselves independents. “

As it stands now, independent voters in Pennsylvania can only cast primary ballots for state constitutional amendments, local initiatives or referendums.

Senate Bill 400 has co-sponsors from both major parties, but still faces votes in both chambers of the General Assembly.

This article originally appeared on Public News Service and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.