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Will PA Get Rid of Closed Primaries?

Did you know that it costs Pennsylvanians approximately $20 million each spring to conduct primary elections?

Well, at least all PA residents pay their fair share if they choose to participate, right?


The Keystone State is one of nine states in the country – Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and Oregon – with completely closed primaries. A closed primary means that only members of a political party can vote in the primary. 

As the number of people who leave or choose never to join a political party continues to increase, the pressure is mounting on lawmakers to reform the Election Code to let independent voters participate in primary elections.

“There are 1.1 million voters like that in Pennsylvania. It’s the fastest growing part of the electorate in the Commonwealth. And they’re shut out of primary elections,” said David Thornburgh, former president and CEO of The Committee of Seventy, at a press conference called by Ballot PA, a new campaign aimed at opening the primaries. “They’re denied their right to vote in every election, even though as taxpayers, they helped help fund those same elections. So simply put, it is not fair.”

That fastest growing portion of the electorate totals approximately 13 percent or one in seven of all Keystone State voters.

“Pennsylvania could decide control of the U.S. Senate or the U.S. House of Representatives,” wrote former state senators Gib Armstrong and Mike Brubaker in a LNP op-ed. “A gubernatorial primary winner will become the leader of the 18th largest economy in the world. Republicans and Democrats will be able to weigh in on some of the most important elections in the country, but unaffiliated voters and independents will be shut out.”

State senator Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) introduced legislation that would change the way Pennsylvania conducts its primary elections. 

Senate Bill 690 would give the nearly 1.3 million registered unaffiliated voters in Pennsylvania the right to participate in the primary election process. Specifically, on the day of the primary election, it will allow these voters to choose to cast their vote on either the Republican or Democrat ballot,” he said. “Voters who are registered Republican or Democrat will continue to be required to vote on their respective ballots.”

Nine states currently hold primaries that are open to unaffiliated voters in this manner – Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

SB 690 was referred to the State Government Committee, headed by Sen. David Argall (R-Berks/Schuylkill), last May but has yet to be acted upon. The Senate also approved an open primaries bill in 2019, but the measure died in the state House without getting a committee vote.

“We should have full voting rights across the board at every election,” said Jennifer Bullock, who is coordinator of PA Independents. “We are more likely, I know I am, more likely to look at a candidate for what they stand for vs. what their party is.”

“I prefer the closed primaries,” said Joe Vichot, the head of the Lehigh County Republican Committee. He says despite the rise of independents, it’s still the party’s role to elect one of its own for the general election. “Sometimes you really have to take that responsibility if you want that voice to really come and join,” he said.

Armstrong and Brubaker wrote, “As former elected officials, we understand the importance of participation and representation. We strove to carry the voices of all of our constituents, but the systematic failures of Pennsylvania’s electoral system make it impossible for independent and unaffiliated voters to participate fully.”

Alan Novak, a former chairman of the state Republican Party, and T.J. Rooney, a former head of the state Democratic Party, joined Thornburgh at the Tuesday press conference in support of the Ballot PA push to open the primaries.

Novak said that by inviting independent voters to participate in the primaries it would make candidates begin talking about issues that interest all voters sooner in the process.

Rooney said it’s inevitable that the state will have to address this issue.

“This is going to happen. And when you deal with inevitabilities, you want to be on the front end of that,” Rooney said.

“Pennsylvania is still a very, very purple state. And in anything that we can do as a party to grow ourselves and to grow our message and to grow the values of what Democrats stand for, I think is a good thing,” Rooney said.

13 Responses

  1. So, 690 would allow any unaffiliated voter to pick either a Republican or Democrat ballot, but if you are a registered Republican or Democrat, you are limited to voting your party’s ballot. Sorry, either open it all the way or not at all.

  2. The primary election is held to allow members of the political party to pick their nominee for the general election. Voters can currently register or change parties until two weeks prior to the election in an process that takes about thirty seconds to complete online – that’s not keeping anyone sincere about voting out of the process. Imagine that you’re a member of the Moose Lodge and you hear that the local Elks Club is electing officers that day and you walk in demanding to cast a vote – why would you have a reasonable expectation to participate? Pick a team.

  3. This just leads to dumbing down the candidates for the general election. How you ask? Easy, it will potentially allow people to crossover and attempt to help the weakest candidate get on the fall ballot. Keep closed primaries so Democrats can nominate experienced qualified candidates and Republicans can nominate lying insurrectionists like Dumb Donald, Carpetbagger Oz, Ding Dong Doug and Unsteady Teddy

  4. Given the wretched state of the two major parties, I’d rather the elections not recognize the parties at all, and just have a complete open primary across parties like they do in California and Alaska with the general essentially being a runoff…

  5. I don’t see why there has to be open primaries which is basically asking for 2 GENERAL ELECTIONS! You think you problems with money in politics? Wait till you have two general elections! The pressure to fund raise and for one party to mess with the other party in primaries will quadruple the pressure to raise large sums. Whatever you need now you’ll need way more with open primaries.

    1. I agree. GOP already cheats with dirty tricks and voter suppression. Imagine how GOP could crossover and defeat good Dems by voting in primary election to put least popular Dem on the ballot for general election. Open election defeats the whole point of having political parties.

      1. I disagree. Dems already cheat with dirty tricks and voter suppression. Imagine how Dems could crossover and defeat good conservatives by voting in primary election to put least popular Republican on the ballot for general election. Open election defeats the whole point of having political parties.

  6. The Democrats want open primaries so they can try to rig it like they do in the general elections

    1. Democrats are not sponsoring this bill, Republicans are.
      Primary elections are held so party member cans choose their candidate. If you are not a member of that party, you have no right to select candidates for that party.

  • 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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