Amending primary election code in Pennsylvania is long overdue

Pennsylvania is one of nine states conducting closed primary elections.

While that format can strengthen party affiliation, it also lets the two major parties dominate the political spectrum and debate.

Independent or Unaffiliated voters do not have representation during the primary.

For the Keystone state, that number approximates 740,000 Pennsylvanians.

State Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Brockway, has introduced legislation — SB 1234 — to change the Pennsylvania Election Code to a Partially Closed Primary.

We believe, as does Sen. Scarnati, that SB 1234 is a needed step supporting voter engagement.

A partially closed primary, by definition, means unaffiliated voters can vote in a state’s primary. Unaffiliated registered voters do not have to declare formal affiliation with a political party in order to vote in the primary election.

The process is straightforward: On Election Day, a poll worker asks which ballot the registered unaffiliated voter is choosing. For that primary only, the unaffiliated voter is identified as being a member of the party associated with the chosen ballot.

Voters are not held to that choice in subsequent elections nor identified in voter registration rosters as such.

If passed, Pennsylvania would join 16 other states conducting partially closed or partially open primary elections: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah and West Virginia.

SB 1234 does not amend, however, that registered voters who list a party affiliation on Primary Election Day can switch at the polling place and ask for an opposing party’s ballot; thus, SB 1234’s true goal is to grant primary election voting privileges to unaffiliated voters and strengthen voter turnout.

We favor an open primary format, however, and seek to join nearly half of our nation’s states in how they conduct their primary elections.

In a true open primary, voters may choose privately which ballot to vote. Cross-over on voting day is permitted.

In 2016, political parties in 23 states conducted open primaries and/or caucuses in the presidential nominating process.

In Pennsylvania, voter turnout for our last primary was 18 percent.

Opponents say SB 1234’s language does not go far enough, that it still favors only the two major parties: Republican and Democrat.

Therefore, we believe voter choice should not be restricted to the two-party system; should any voter choose to vote Green, Libertarian, Constitution, Natural Law, or other party, the option to do so must be included in any amendment to P.L. 1330 No. 320.

Opponents further complain of ballot sway: unaffiliated voters can make a concerted effort in supporting a primary candidate they view who would be weak in the general election against a candidate on an opposing ticket.

Predicting accurately which candidate will draw votes and who will not early on in a campaign requires more than surveys of likely voters. And if voters vote by candidate rather than party? Perhaps we can return to civility.

Given the Keystone State’s role in our nation’s history, one would think this state would lead the effort to support independence at the ballot box.


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