With abysmally low voter turnout in the closed primary elections held earlier this month in Pennsylvania, pressure is mounting to open the process to Independents. On May 17th, Pennsylvania voters headed to the polls to cast their ballots in primary elections for county and municipal offices, school boards and judges. Or rather, more precisely, voters didn’t head to the polls to cast their ballots in the state’s primary elections. As local Patch columnist Tom De Martini wrote reflecting on the returns: “Primary voter turnout is usually low, but Tuesday's showing at the polls was one of the worst I can recall since I starting casting ballots in 1979.” One local CBS News affiliate felt it necessary to emphasize that, despite the low turnout, the results still count: “low voter turnout was the theme for the day, even though a few key races were up for decision. A whopping 80 percent of voters bypassed the election, but the results still count.”
Pennsylvania is one of twenty states in which Independents and third party voters are prohibited from casting a ballot in the Republican and Democratic party primaries, according to a tally by The Center for Voting and Democracy. Roughly one million Pennsylvanians, about one in eight voters, are not affiliated with any party or are registered with a third party. The abysmal showing in the primary elections by the state’s Democrats and Republicans is leading to increased calls for open primaries . . .
When faced with criticism of the closed primary system, its supporters in the Democratic and Republican parties often reply by stating that if Independents desire to vote in the primary elections, they can simply change their affiliation. Independents respond by pointing out that if the Democratic and Republican parties want publicly funded primary elections, these elections should not be effectively closed to the public . . .
The problem posed by Pennsylvania’s closed primary system is exacerbated by the fact that candidates for local and state offices often cross-file in both the Republican and Democratic primary elections, which can easily result in uncontested general election races . . .
Perhaps one might argue that if Independent Pennsylvanians are so frustrated with the Democratic and Republican parties, they can register their discontent by voting for Independent or third party candidates in the general election. But Democratic and Republican party activists work tirelessly to ensure that such candidates do not appear on the ballot . . .