A bill by Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, would allow unaffiliated voters to choose on primary election day to vote with the Democrats or Republicans, report Brad Bumsted and Sam Janesch of The Caucus, an LNP Media Group watchdog publication. Scarnati introduced his bill in February; it has not moved out of the Senate State Government Committee. But Scarnati said there are plans to advance open primary legislation when the Senate returns to session in June. As Bumsted and Janesch note, “Half of Scarnati’s co-sponsors are Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny County.” Neither of Lancaster County’s senators, Republicans Ryan Aument or Scott Martin, is listed as a co-sponsor of the bill.
The facts laid out by Bumsted and Janesch are striking:
— Independent voters are increasing in number in Pennsylvania: 786,500, up from 729,000 in 2016, an increase of almost 8%.
— The number of unaffiliated voters in Lancaster County is 51,768, Randall O. Wenger, chief clerk for the county Board of Elections, told The Caucus.
On Tuesday, most of those unaffiliated Lancaster County voters will stay home, unless they reside in West Hempfield Township, where they will be permitted to answer this yes-or-no ballot question: “Do you favor the issuance of licenses to conduct small games of chance in the Township of West Hempfield?”
“Pennsylvania is one of nine states with closed primaries, where there is no ‘cross-over’ voting between political parties, and unaffiliated voters are excluded, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures,” Bumsted and Janesch explain.
We have reservations about cross-over voting, though candidates themselves can “cross over” by cross-filing on both parties’ ballots. That’s why you’ll see Republican school board candidates on the Democratic ballot and vice versa.
But as the number of unaffiliated voters grows, it becomes clear that Pennsylvania’s closed-primary system is out of step with the times. Indeed, in our view, it is undemocratic.
George Washington didn’t like political parties for a reason.
In his September 1796 farewell to the nation — through which he taught future generations of Americans that we are led by presidents, not ruled by kings — Washington had this warning about political parties: “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
Wise and prescient man, that Washington.
We’re guessing the father of our country wouldn’t be pleased to learn that major-party affiliation is a requirement to vote in some state's primaries, including Pennsylvania's.
The reality is that most independent voters lean toward either the Democratic or the Republican Party, the Pew Research Center has found. But they have significant differences with partisans on issues such as same-sex marriage and immigration, and they have a dimmer view of partisan political candidates, Pew found.
They tend to be younger: Fewer than half of independents (37%) are ages 50 and older, according to Pew.
And they tend to be less politically engaged.
Perhaps that’s in part because they have to sit out primary elections.
We are strongly in favor of voter engagement. We believe voter registration and voting should be made easier to increase the numbers of people who cast ballots. And we think primaries ought to be open to unaffiliated voters.
Some of us won’t be voting Tuesday, but we really, really wish we could, because elections here — especially municipal elections like Tuesday’s — often are determined in the primary.
And while municipal elections may lack the drama of presidential contests, they are vitally important. (Also, we have drama in abundance. We shouldn’t need more of it to compel us to go to our polling places.)
As Stephen L. Patrick, of Rapho Township, pointed out in a letter to the editor last week, the importance of municipal elections owes to “the simple reason that decisions made by elected local officials such as municipal officers, school boards, county commissioners and local judges have far more immediate impact on ordinary citizens than what may happen at the state or national level.”
“This includes everything from local taxes to zoning regulations to school curricula to the validity of commonwealth laws. Too many people overlook these facts. Often they justify themselves by saying they don’t have time to pay attention to these things. This is a serious mistake.”
Patrick happens to be a Manheim Central Democratic committeeman. But his message isn’t a partisan one.
Wenger, the county’s chief elections official, is a Republican. In a 2016 LNP interview, he said, “People should get out and vote every year. Our municipal elections are probably just as important or more important than choosing presidential electors.”
We heartily agree.
So if you’re a registered Democrat or Republican — or a registered voter of any ilk in West Hempfield Township, where there’s a ballot question — make a point of voting Tuesday.
Registered Democrats and Republicans will nominate candidates for dozens of municipal and judicial offices. Contested primary races include those for Superior Court judge, Lancaster County commissioner and, in many school districts, school directors.
Vote for the candidates you wish to see on the ballot in November — or write someone in, if you don’t like an unchallenged candidate on the primary ballot. (Just please propose a legitimate candidate — write-in votes for Carson Wentz and Captain Marvel aren’t as hilarious as you might think they are.)
Vote. For yourself, your community — and for those who cannot take part in Tuesday’s primary.