’m one of the state’s 786,554 unaffiliated voters who was not allowed to vote in the primary last Tuesday.
My wife, Mary, is another. We dutifully showed up at our East Buffalo Township polling place around 7:15 a.m. anyway, to vote in the special election for the 12th Congressional District. The choice between Republican Fred Keller and Democrat Marc Friedenberg was the only one we got to make.
That’s wrong. So is the state’s closed primary system.
Proposed Senate Bill 300, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, would allow the state’s registered independents to vote in the primary election.
I hope that moves forward. Unaffiliated voters should not be disenfranchised.
Voter turnout, in case you didn’t notice, was between mediocre and miserable on Tuesday. That’s even more reason to let independents who actually want to vote participate.
Scarnati’s measure faces opposition. Some will always believe only political party members should get to choose party candidates. Others fear an opposition effort to vote for weaker candidates to benefit their own.
The question most often raised is: If you want to vote in the primary, why don’t you just register with a party?
I can’t answer for anyone else, but I choose not to because, as a community newspaper editor, I’ve always felt it inappropriate to be affiliated.
Pennsylvania is one of nine states with closed primaries. The others are Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Nevada and Oregon, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
There are several alternatives. That’s actually part of the problem for Pennsylvania moving forward. With multiple choices, making change becomes more complicated.
One is an open primary, in which a voter either does not have to formally affiliate with a political party in order to vote in its primary or can declare his or her affiliation with a party at the polls on the day of the primary.
NCSL lists 15 states with open primaries — Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.
There are also partially-closed primaries. In this system, according to the NCSL, political parties choose whether to allow unaffiliated voters to participate in their nominating contests before each election cycle. Eight states — Alaska, Connecticut, Idaho, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Idaho and Utah, NCSL says, have this type.
Some states have partially-open primaries, in which voters can cross party lines, but must either publicly declare their ballot choice or their ballot selection may be regarded as a form of registration with the corresponding party. Six states, NCSL reports, use that system — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Tennessee and Wyoming.
There are also nine states that use what’s called an “Open to Unaffiliated Voters” system. That, NCSL says, allows unaffiliated voters to participate in any party primary they choose, but does not allow voters who are registered with one party to vote in another party’s primary. Personally, I’d go for that one, which is used now by Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and West Virginia.
Finally, there are what’s known as “Top Two” primary states. California, Louisiana, Nebraska (for state elections) and Washington currently use that format, which uses a common ballot, listing all candidates of all parties on the same ballot. The top two vote-getters win.
Pennsylvania needs to pick one — hopefully before next year’s primary.
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