Harrisburg

Top lawmakers push to open primary elections to independent voters

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -- - Only 22% of registered Dauphin County voters turned up for last week's primary. Officials say including independents would increase turn out, but others say it serves as a reminder to why we have closed primaries in the first place.

Jerry Feaser is the man who oversees Dauphin County elections, he can only describe the turnout for May 15th's primary as abysmal.

 "We were actually out of the office before 11 o'clock that night, which is a record for our office," said Feaser. 

The entire Commonwealth currently operates under a closed primary, meaning that voters can only vote within their registered party, leaving independents without any say. 

That was started years ago, just after the period when there was no primary election.

 "You have to go back in history to the early 1900's and before when party nominees were selected by caucuses, committees, closed doors, smoke-filled rooms, things like that," said Feaser. 

State officials weren't quite ready to open the ballot to everyone, so the closed primary was born.

"The compromise was, 'okay, we'll allow all registered voters to participate, but they have to be registered Republican to participate in the Republican primary and Democrats to participate in the Democrat primary," said Feaser.

Although the current system shuts out over 26,000 independent voters just in Dauphin County alone. Feaser says independents can easily navigate around that problem up to 30 days before the primary.

"When you take into account that voters can change their registration before every primary, it really is up to the voter to control their registration," said Feaser.

So far, Republican leaders in the House and Senate and the Democratic leader in the house all support the idea. 

Pennsylvania is one of only 14 states that still have closed primaries.

 


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