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Laughlin Wants To End Closed Primaries In Proposed Bill

Should all Pennsylvanians have a say in who the candidates for elected office should be in the general election?

We are approaching 45 days from an election that will choose candidates for local office – the people that affect our daily lives – including judges, township supervisors, county commissioners, school board officers and more.

The answer, of course, is yes. Right?

Not so fast.

The Commonwealth is one of nine states in the union that holds closed primaries, only allowing those registered with a party to cast a vote in the spring primaries. This excludes more than 1 million voters statewide.

State Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) aims to change that.

The chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee plans to introduce legislation to end closed primaries and provided his rationale in an op-ed published on the Broad + Liberty website.

“Given that all taxpayers pay for primary elections, and given how decisions and votes by any of these elected leaders could affect the pocketbook of every Pennsylvanian, it’s hard to imagine a more stark example of taxation without representation, especially in local races,” he wrote.

“I have long pushed for sensible reforms to expand the spring primary electorate by allowing independent voters unaffiliated with any political party to vote on candidates. It can be done. A proposal that I backed passed the state Senate, 42-8, with strong bipartisan support in 2019.

But I believe the potential for success is now firmly within our grasp, especially after fractious debates over election procedures and voting rules. Pennsylvanians want a change.”

The Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan civic leadership organization that advances representative, ethical and effective government in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania through citizen engagement and public policy advocacy, is in Laughlin’s corner.

The organization is leading Ballot PA (formerly Open Primaries PA), a growing coalition of civic, community and business organizations committed to open and free elections in Pennsylvania that lead to responsive and accountable government.

It believes that the current closed system guarantees that fewer voters participate, elections are less competitive and, ultimately, political polarization is reinforced, contributing to legislative gridlock and hampering good governance.

Laughlin points this out in his op-ed, especially as it relates to young voters and military veterans.

“Moreover, as many as half of young voters – those who inevitably will gain political power with time – identify as independent,” he writes. “Welcoming these voters into the primary process would not only lead to better government; it’s smart politics.

“Half of all veterans identify as a political independent. Imagine trying to explain to a veteran who risked their life for our country that they can’t vote in a primary election because they registered as an independent.”

Laughlin uses data from Osage Research from November 2021 that showed 69 percent of self-identified Trump Republicans and 67 percent of traditional GOP voters say independents should be allowed to vote in primaries. On the other side, 85 percent of progressive Democrats and 75 percent of centrists Democrats agree.

“Let’s be honest: Our primary process, where only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote for candidates in their party, no longer works,” he writes. “When communities are either darker blue or darker red than ever before, polarization is amplified, and candidates have a strong incentive to appeal only to the whims of the party base. They risk their electoral fortunes if they don’t.

“In Pennsylvania politics, thanks to these closed primaries, spring is not a time when hope flowers, but when apathy, cynicism and polarization take root. It is time for our commonwealth to shift, as much of America already has, to a fairer and more responsive primary system, one where every legitimate registered voter has an equal chance to vote in every election.”

What do you think? Should Pennsylvania move to an open primary system?

Polls are open through Monday night.

Should Pennsylvania Move To An Open Primary System?

  • Yes. Everyone should have the opportunity to choose candidates for the general election (73%)
  • No. Only party members should be selecting their candidates for office (27%)

Total Voters: 143

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8 Responses

  1. Great idea. The Republican machine will be able to engineer their own nominees through their pliant membership, and while they also choose the weakest Democratic candidate by having their voters cross over and vote in the Democratic primary. If you can’t win elections by the rules, change the rules.

  2. You should be a member of the party if you are voting for that parties nominees. Just have the parties pay.

  3. Both parties should welcome open primaries. Allowing independents to vote will increase turnout and encourage young Pennsylvanians to register.

  4. You won’t get any more “Mastrianos” as nominees with open primaries so that is a good thing.

  5. Many Independents are moderates who don’t support the policies of either the far right or far left. Allowing them to vote in primaries will force both side to offer better qualified candidates.

  6. If closed primaries are repealed, chances are there will suddenly be a lot more independents. I’d be one of them

  7. A number of people who are registered as Independent do not realize there may be other issues and races on the ballot that they should vote on, so do not go to the polls.


  • Understanding that basic education funding should/will be first, what should be the next highest priority for the General Assembly?

    • Raising The Minimum Wage (25%)
    • Legalizing Adult-Use Marijuana (24%)
    • None of the above. Something Else. (20%)
    • Economic Development (14%)
    • Higher Education (8%)
    • Public Transportation (8%)
    • Workforce Opportunities and Innovation (2%)

    Total Voters: 51

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