Should Pennsylvania open the door to independents or stick with closed primary?

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Candidates for statewide and local offices worked the streets of Midtown Harrisburg on Monday afternoon, looking for votes on the eve of the election.

There were handshakes and smiles for passersby and lots of hugs.

But polling places across the commonwealth will not be so welcoming Tuesday. The doors will be open but the primary is closed, meaning only registered Democrats can vote for Democrats, Republicans can only vote for Republicans.

Everybody else must sit this one out, even though several seats will be decided on primary day.

The reality is, in Harrisburg, Democrats will choose their state representative Tuesday. If you’re a Republican or Independent or other third party living in the city, you don’t get to decide the person who will represent you at the Capitol.

The reality is, across the river in Cumberland County, Republicans will select their state representative and their next state senator. If you’re a Democrat, independent or some other party, you don’t get to decide the folks representing you at the Capitol.

But you do get to pay for it. Primary elections are funded by all taxpayers.

One solution is called an open primary where every candidate is open to every voter. Representative Patty Kim (D-Dauphin) is open to the idea.

“Nowadays, I see a trend of people being so disgusted with the parties, whether Republican or Democrat, and they’re going independent. So, let’s give them a chance to vote in the primary. Give them an option. I think it would be best for the whole state because there’s so much frustration with the parties.”

Matt Brouillette, of the conservative Commonwealth Foundation, is not so sure.

“There’s lots of mischief that happens in open primaries,” he said.

Brouillette says closed primaries aren’t the problem. Making taxpayers open their wallets to fund them is.

“Parties are private organizations and they should be able to pick their candidates for particular office,” Brouillette said, but quickly added, “At the same time, it’s probably not a taxpayer-funded function, either.”

A bigger issue, says former lawmaker Josh Shapiro, is gerrymandered districts that in too many places make the primary election the real election. Shapiro said redistricting reform is needed.

“So that races in November are as competitive as they are in the primary,” Shapiro said. “I think if you have more competitive elections in the fall, ultimately you’ll have better policy-making because you’re gonna force members to come to the middle and get stuff done.”

Any registered voter can vote on statewide referendums in a primary. One ballot question could abolish the Philadelphia traffic courts. Another on judicial retirement age may appear on some ballots, but won’t count because it was postponed at the last minute until November.

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