HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — Municipal primary elections are a little over two weeks away. But in Pennsylvania, 1.1 million Independent voters will not be able to participate because the Commonwealth is one-of-nine states with a closed primary system.
Instead, only the ballots of registered Democrats and Republicans will be counted to solidify each party’s candidate for November. It’s been the case since legislation in 1937 enacted closed primaries. Now advocates want to repeal it.
“Over the years, Independent voters have become one of the fastest growing pieces of the electorate,” said David Thornburgh, Chairman of Ballot PA.
Now, nearly 90 years later, Thornburgh is working to open the primaries. He says it would promote less partisan, more responsive candidates.
“You get more accountability, you get more responsiveness, and you create incentives for people running for office to speak to all voters, not just a narrow few,” said Thornburgh.
Thornburgh, the son of former Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh, says a return to moderate politics is a much-needed game plan.
“People like him, and I think the people of Pennsylvania, live in between the forty-yard lines of the political football field. And we haven’t been there,” said Thornburgh.
Opening the primaries is a good game plan according to former Pittsburgh Steelers running back, Rocky Bleier.
“It’s not red and it’s not blue. It’s red, white and blue,” said Bleier.
Bleier, a Vietnam veteran, says closed primaries are blocking roughly half of Pennsylvania’s 800,000 veterans from having a voice.
“About 400,000 that are Independent voters that don’t have an input in the primary. That is just not fair,” said Bleier.
“It’s hard to imagine a more stark example of taxation without representation, especially in local races,” said State Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie), Chairman of the Senate majority Policy Committee.
As he has in previous sessions, Laughlin is introducing legislation to open the primaries.
“Independents that I’ve discussed this with, they’re very frustrated that they can’t vote in the primary,” said Laughlin.
With a narrowly split House and bipartisan support for Senate Bill 400, Laughlin believes the bill has a chance this session.
“I’m pretty optimistic that it’s going to finally be the year,” said Laughlin.
SB 400 will need to be approved by the Senate State Government Committee before it receives a floor vote.
We reached out to Sen. Cris Dush (R-Cameron/Centre/Clinton/Elk/Jefferson/Mckean/Potter), Chairman of the State Government Committee, for comment on whether he plans to move the bill, but has not heard back from his office.
The Municipal Primary Election is May 16.