Open Primaries On the Table in Pennsylvania
In June, Rep. Eugene DePasquale, a Pennsylvania state legislator, introduced an open primary bill that would give the Keystone State’s million-plus independent voters the right to participate in the crucial first round of voting.
In announcing the introduction of HB 1672, DePasquale noted that his legislation would not change how registered Democrats and Republicans vote in primaries; rather, the bill would give a voice to independents by allowing them to choose a primary in which to vote.
“The intent of this legislation is to ensure that every elector’s voice is heard and recorded during primary elections,” DePasquale, a first-term legislator from York County, explained. “Our current closed primary system leaves thousands of Pennsylvanians disenfranchised on primary Election Day. Regardless of political affiliation, voters should be able to have a say in their candidates.” DePasquale noted that Independent Pennsylvanians (IP) – a nonpartisan association of independent voters concerned with reforming the political process – had already endorsed the bill.
IP’s Jennifer Bullock, who is actively supporting the bill, said “The fact that Pennsylvania’s presidential primaries were closed in 2008 educated a lot of independents, especially younger independents, about how our state’s electoral system discriminates against non-aligned voters.”
As of mid-July, HB 1672 had 10 co-sponsors, including two Republicans. For the time being the bill has come to rest in the Committee on State Government and is unlikely to come up for a hearing in the current session.
In an interview with The Neo-Independent magazine, DePasquale acknowledged that the campaign for open primaries is a long-term project; he expects that he’ll have to “bang away at it for a couple of years.” Next steps include seeking a Republican in the state senate to sponsor it. DePasquale predicts that newer and younger legislators in Harrisburg will be more receptive to open primaries than many among the older generation of politicians because of the unprecedented influence that independent voters wielded in the 2008 primaries – when those in states with open primaries helped to make Barack Obama the Democratic nominee.
“Lest we forget, the primaries are funded by the taxpayers and not the political parties,” Mark Balsam of Independent Pennsylvanians wrote in a letter to the editor that was published in The Morning Call of Allentown and Scranton’s Times-Tribune. “Our polling indicates broad support for open primaries from voters across the political spectrum. In a democracy such as ours, it is just not acceptable to shut out over a million voters for partisan political reasons.”