PA: Disenfranchised Independents Call for Open Primaries, Democratic-Republican Politics Cause Physical Illness

Along with Kentucky and Arkansas, Pennsylvania will be holding closely-watched primary elections today. As the Hankster reports, unlike in Kentucky and Arkansas, Pennsylvania's Democratic and Republican primaries are only open to registered party voters. Nancy puts it this way: "only registered Dems or Repubs can vote in that party's primary. If you're an independent, you're flat outa luck." According to Pennsylvania's most recent voter registration statistics, that means 1,013,885 out of 8,443,188 voters, or 12%, are "flat outa luck" today. For the sake of comparison, in addition to these 1,013,885 "other" voters (including third party and independent voters), there are 4,310317 registered Democrats and 3,118,986 Republicans.

Independent Pennsylvanians will be holding actions and events today intended to draw attention to the commonwealth's closed primary system and gain support for reforms that would open its primary elections to independent and unaffiliated voters. From Independent Pennsylvanians:

Independent Pennsylvanians (IP) will be conducting an educational awareness and petitioning campaign about the primaries on May 18th. Our goal is to educate voters at center city Philadelphia polling sites about Pennsylvania’s closed primary system. Pennsylvania is one of a minority of states that still shuts out the fastest growing voting block – independents.

IP is an organization of Independents across the state whose mission is to serve as a force for progressive, non-partisan reform. We are the PA affiliate of Independent, which works to connect and empower the 40% of Americans who identify themselves as independents.

IP will be at City Hall 9:00 am then proceed to area polling sites to gather petition signatures in support of HB 1672 – A bill introduced by State Rep. Eugene Depasquale (D-York) to open our primaries to non-affiliated voters. This important legislation will level the playing field for the over one million independent voters in our state by allowing them to participate, along with major party registrants, in the crucial first round of voting.

Even though tax-payer dollars pay for primaries in PA, non-affiliated, tax-paying voters are locked out of the electoral process. To sign the petition to support open primaries on this site (SIGN THE OPEN PRIMARIES PETITION).
Lancaster Online recently reported on how the rise in independent voters in Lancaster County mirrors national trends:
Matt Henderson will be sitting this one out. Tuesday's primary election will see Republicans and Democrats head to the polls to nominate candidates in key state and national races. But as a member of the Lancaster Green Party — and it's co-chair — Henderson, like a growing number of registered voters in Lancaster County, can't vote.

"I voted for Nader in 2008 and just formally switched my registration to Green last year," said Henderson, who before that, as a student at Millersville University, was a registered Republican who voted for George W. Bush in 2004 . . . "We need to get away from this mentality that just because Republicans screw up, Democrats deserve to be elected by default, or vice versa." A growing number of voters both here and across the country may be concluding just that . . .

Last month USA Today reported that over the past two years, the number of independent voters grew faster than Democrats and Republicans in at least 14 of the 28 states and the District of Columbia that register voters by party . . .

for many independents, ideology is less important than an increasingly disturbing reality. "When one considers that elected members of both parties spend half their time in office asking, cajoling and pleading for campaign donations, it is easy to be an independent," wrote John Devlin of Conestoga, a registered independent, in an e-mail.

"Both parties consist of members ... who are nothing more than wholly owned subsidiaries of defense, health, oil, coal, pharma and the banksters, [so] why would one consider anything other than an independent?" he asked . . .

"the Republicans and Democrats make me physically ill." [Emphasis added.]
He's not the only one.


Samuel Wilson said...

On one hand, to the extent that the major parties are membership entities, some notion of privacy would seem to justify excluding non-members from the selection of a party's candidates. On the other, since the primaries under the current system determine who appears on a ballot that belongs to everyone, simple democracy may demand that everyone have a voice in determining who appears. In that case, the Pennsylvanians should insist on the maximum: the right to vote in both or all primaries. But on another level that looks like capitulation to the Bipolarchy, doesn't it?

d.eris said...

There are also issues of free association in play here as well. The closest thing to the "both or all" option is the blanket primary which has been struck down by the Supreme Court, on the grounds of free association.

I'm not sure of all the details in the case of PA, but, imo, the question of whether anyone other than registered party members can vote in a party's primary should be left up to the party itself, rather than be dictated by law.

There is definitely a tension between the independent call for open primaries and the independent's insistence on remaining an independent. If you are voting in the Democratic or Republican primaries and then vote for a Democrat or Republican in the general election, in what sense are you an independent?

Steve Rankin said...

In 1995, a federal appeals court said that, when the state mandates that parties hold primaries, the parties cannot be required to pay for those primaries (Republican Party of Arkansas v. Faulkner County).

In a blanket primary, all candidates of multiple parties are listed on the same primary ballot. As you noted, the US Supreme Court struck down the state-mandated blanket primary in 2000.

In a nonpartisan system-- popularly called an "open primary"-- all candidates, including independents, run in the same election. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the runoff. Only Louisiana and Washington state now use this system; California will have such a proposal on its June 8 ballots.

As to closed-primary states such as Pennsylvania: Each party is empowered to invite independents to vote in its primaries. I'm convinced that it's unconstitutional for the state to mandate that independents be eligible to vote in party primaries. Arizona is one of only two states that does this; the Libertarians have already won an exemption from this mandate, and the AZ Republicans will likely soon file suit against the law.

Why should those who steadfastly refuse to register with a party be permitted to participate in that party's candidate-selection process-- unless the party invites them to do so?

Steve Rankin said...

I should have also said that, in a blanket primary, the top vote-getter from each party advances to the general election.

In Alaska, the Democrats and the minor parties now have a voluntary blanket primary; the Republicans, however, have their own separate primary. ANY voter may vote in the Democratic/minor party primary, while independents are the only non-members who are eligible to vote in the Republican primary.

d.eris said...

Thanks for those comments Steve, I've recently been wondering why it is that all of us have to pay for the Democrat and Republican party primary charades.