The House State Government Committee approved two measures on Tuesday that would end closed primaries in Pennsylvania. Both bills now advance to the full House for consideration.
The bipartisan measures would allow independent voters to choose which political party primary they want to vote in – a bill (H.B. 976) by Rep. Marla Brown (R-Lawrence) and legislation (H.B. 979) by Rep. Jared Solomon (D-Philadelphia). One of the two bills would also allow third party voters to vote in major party primaries if their party did not receive enough votes to be considered an official party.
“I’m very pleased with the first step taken today and the committee’s agreement to move this legislation forward,” said Brown. “I think we’re on the right path to continue our state’s legacy democracy in Pennsylvania.”
“Open primaries would give these voters a voice,” Solomon said. “By disenfranchising these voters, we are losing a good opportunity to hear new ideas and fresh perspectives.”
“This is an idea whose time has come,” said David Thornburgh, chair of BallotPA. “More than a million Pennsylvanians are being denied their right to vote. And that number continues to grow each and every day as more people register as independents. It’s time to let these voters have a say in who represents them and how their government is run.”
A majority of states have some form of an open primary, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. There are seven states with laws on the books similar to the two Pennsylvania bills, allowing unaffiliated voters to cast primary ballots.
“This really is a historic vote,” Thornburgh said. “It marks the first time in history that a House bill to open primaries to independents has ever received a positive vote to advance from committee. I’m grateful to Chairman Scott Conklin (D-Centre) and the bills’ sponsors, Marla Brown and Jared Solomon, for the bipartisan work they did to get the measure approved by the House committee.”
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.
Polling data show that Pennsylvanians from across the political spectrum overwhelmingly support removing this barrier to allow access to the ballot box.
Sixty-nine 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.
Similar bipartisan legislation (S.B. 400) was introduced in the Senate in the spring by Sens. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) and Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh & Northampton). That bill remains in committee.