More than 780,000 unaffiliated voters can’t vote in primary elections in Pennsylvania, but there’s a new bipartisan push by lawmakers to change that.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Pennsylvania is in the minority, one of nine states where only registered republicans or democrats can vote in closed primaries.
“Close to a third of Pennsylvania voters say that although they might be registered with a major political party, they consider themselves independent,” said Jim Lee, President and CEO of Susquehanna Polling and Research Inc.
Lee says more voters don’t feel either party represents them and that’s why open primaries appeal to swing voters.
“You could see, presumably higher turnout in primaries because more people will feel like they have a stake in the election,” Lee said.
Republican state Senator Joe Scarnati says his bill to open primaries in the commonwealth could curb extremism in elections and increase voter turnout. It’s interesting to note that Scarnati won his Senate election in 2000 as an independent.
“The party system in the primary electorate has been predicated on kicking out candidates from the primaries that represent the tenants and values of what the party stands for. Open primaries now change that considerably,” Lee said.
The bill received a hearing this past week in the Senate state government committee as part of a broader election reform package.
Lee says for a presidential election, it could make a difference, but during off-year elections, like this May 21, he doesn’t think it would.
“It tends to be your more partisan candidates that tend to run in these off-year primaries and the people who show up are your more partisan voters on both sides,” Lee said.
Democratic party chairwoman Nancy Patton Mills said she would leave the matter to the party’s elected officials, while Scarnati said Republican party officials have told him “they’re not happy about it.”
The bill is supported the Senate’s ranking Democrat, Jay Costa and Gov. Tom Wolf.