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Pennsylvania is one of just nine states that run closed primaries.

The Commonwealth runs closed primaries in spring for local, state and federal offices where only registered Republicans can vote in GOP primaries and registered Democrats in Democratic primaries. There are four other choices on the PA Voter Registration Application: Green, Libertarian, None (no affiliation) and Other. A voter registered to one of these can vote in all general elections, but never in a primary.

Election code is out of step with voter affiliations.

Closed primaries became law in the act of June 3, 1937, known as the Pennsylvania Election Code. Historically, most voters—though not all—have registered with one of the two major parties. This is no longer the case. Today, an estimated 1.1 million voters are registered as None (“independent”) or with a third party. Consistent with national trends, “independents” represent the fastest-growing segment of registered voters in Pennsylvania.

Denying the voices of over 1 million voters.

Voters not registered with the two major parties have no voice in choosing which candidates from these parties will be on the general ballot in November. According to the Committee of Seventy, closed primaries are “a system that guarantees that fewer voters participate, elections are less competitive and, ultimately, political polarization is reinforced, contributing to legislative gridlock and hampering good governance.” And “74% of Pennsylvanians support repealing closed primaries, including strong majorities of Independents, Democrats and Republicans.” It is also a form of taxation without representation. Each primary election costs about $20 million and is paid for with our tax dollars. Voters barred from primaries help to pay the costs without the benefit of participating.

Our representatives seem unwilling to prioritize passing open primary bills.

Legislation to open primaries to all voters is stalled in the General Assembly. In the 2019-2020 session, Senate Bill 300 passed in the Senate with a 42 to 8 vote but was ignored by the House. In May 2021, two new bills were introduced: Senate Bill 690 and House Bill 1369. These bills would allow third-party and independent voters to choose to cast their vote on either the Republican or Democratic primary ballot. Despite bipartisan support and public interest, at the close of the 2021-2022 session neither had moved from their respective State Government Committees.

Further Reading


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