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Open primaries for fairness, governance

Editorial by Scranton Times-Tribune:

Pennsylvania’s May 17 primary election might have been the most unusual race in the commonwealth’s long and politically colorful history.

As election reform advocate David Thornburgh put it recently, the election was the “first one in the commonwealth’s 235-year history in which voters had the chance to vote for candidates in open gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races, new state House and Senate districts, and new congressional districts.”

Unfortunately, the election was unusual in another way. Pennsylvania remains among only nine states that do not allow all registered voters to vote in primary elections.

State law restricts primary voting only to registered members of parties with candidates seeking party nomination. As a practical matter, that means only Republicans and Democrats vote for candidates in Pennsylvania primaries, although all registered voters may cast ballots on referendums.

That’s a particular problem in Pennsylvania because unaligned voters are the fastest growing bloc of registered voters. On May 17, nearly 1.4 million independent voters were not allowed to vote, as just more than a third of Democrats and Republicans did so.

In 41 other states and the District of Columbia, all voters can cast ballots in primary elections. Through a variety of systems, independents can choose a party on primary election date.

Besides the inherent lack of fairness in requiring taxpayers to pay for elections and then prohibiting them from voting if they are registered independents, the bad election process is fundamental to bad governance.

This year’s only recently settled race among out-of-state multimillionaires for the Republican nomination to a U.S. Senate seat makes the case.

Mehmet Oz and David McCormick spent scores of millions of dollars appealing to a narrow, hard-right base. Their relentlessly negative advertising focused on each adversary’s supposed evil tendencies and hot-button social issues that have little to do with public policy.

Allowing independents to vote would require primary candidates to try to cast a wider net and actually address real problems, rather than setting up straw men to knock down in an effort to impress a narrow base.

For the sake of fairness and, more important, better governance, the Legislature should establish open primary elections.

— Scranton Times-Tribune


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