They may not agree on policy, but they do agree it’s time to change Pennsylvania primary elections.
Five former Keystone State governors – Tom Ridge (1995-2001), Mark Schweiker (2001-2003), Ed Rendell (2003-2011), Tom Corbett (2011-2015), and Tom Wolf (2015-2023) – released a letter on Monday that endorses bipartisan legislation in both the House and Senate that would repeal closed primaries in Pennsylvania.
“When we were elected Governor, we pledged to govern on behalf of all Pennsylvanians – Democrats, Republicans, independents, those who voted for us, and those who voted against us,” the governors wrote. “But our political system has changed over the last decade or two. Primary elections are often decided by a few more extreme voters.
“Candidates elected by those more extreme voters don’t have as much incentive to engage in the compromise and give and take that is so essential to effective governing,” the letter continues. “Adding independent voters to the primary mix will help.”
Pennsylvania is one of only seven states to completely exclude independent voters from voting in primary elections. That means nearly 1.2 million voters who are registered as unaffiliated with a political party or independent are denied the right to vote, even though their taxes pay for the primary election, which costs $50 million to run.
Due to gerrymandering, there are fewer and fewer 50-50 races throughout the Commonwealth, as parties look to protect their fiefdoms. Often times, the primary election in the state is the deciding factor in a Republican or Democratic-dominated district on who will win in the general election and serve as an elected official.
That is why the former governors are making their call to action.
“Pennsylvania’s independent voters aren’t looking for favors, just fairness. As taxpayers, these independent voters help pay the roughly $50 million it costs to run a primary election – and yet they are denied the right to cast a vote. This is surely taxation without representation.”
A proposal to open primaries passed the state Senate, 42-8, with strong bipartisan support in 2019, but momentum is growing. Several measures are under active consideration in this legislative session.
Sens. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) and Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh/Northampton) have introduced bipartisan legislation (SB 400), noting “By allowing more of our registered voters to have a voice in choosing their representatives is a vital step toward ensuring the strength of our democracy.”
And Rep. Marla Brown (R-Lawrence) introduced HB 976, while Rep. Jared Solomon (D-Philadelphia) and Rep. Chris Rabb (D-Philadelphia) introduced HB 979 in the House. They wrote that, “No one should be treated like a second-class member of our electorate due to unnecessary and exclusionary aspects of our state law that restrict one’s constitutional right to vote.” Brown wrote that her “legislation would maintain Pennsylvania’s system of party registration but allow voters not registered with either the Republican or Democratic parties a chance to participate.
The full text of the governors’ letter follows.