Pennsylvania State Senators Introduce Open Primary Legislation

Open PrimaryImage via Pennsylvania Senate Democrats

PENNSYLVANIA — Senators Lisa M. Boscola (D-Northampton) and Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) this week introduced a bipartisan proposal to repeal closed primary elections in Pennsylvania, allowing registered voters who selected ‘none’ or ‘no affiliation’ on their voter registration form to exercise their voting rights during a primary election.

“Most Pennsylvanians are not aware that if they do not register Democratic or Republican, you will likely be turned away on primary election day,” Boscola said. “It is shameful because not everyone can identify within the two-party system we currently have. That choice shouldn’t silence their vote.”

This bill will restore voting access to more than 1.2 million voters in Pennsylvania, who identify as ‘independent’ voters and are not registered to one of the two largest political parties: Democratic and Republican. According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, that number of unaffiliated voters has risen by 51,816 between 2015 and 2021.

“Look outside of Pennsylvania and you will see that most states have open primaries, and it hasn’t created chaos. In fact, it empowers more voters and will likely increase voter participation. That’s a good thing,” Boscola said.

Pennsylvania is 1 of only 9 remaining states that bar independent voters from participating in primaries, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. These states include Delaware, New York, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, and New Mexico. Senate Bill 400 would bring Pennsylvania in line with the majority of states that have modified or open primaries.

“SB 400 isn’t some grand scheme to skew primary election results to affect the fall general election outcome. This is simply about engaging the voters and letting them vote. For us to prevent them from doing that, thereby ignoring their opinions and voices, is just wrong. Addressing that wrong is one of the most important things that can be done as a lawmaker,” said Laughlin.

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Senator Boscola and Laughlin have already gained over a dozen cosponsors from members of both parties in the Senate. However, the issue faces an uphill battle despite broad public support and an increasing majority of the American public who self-describe themselves as Independents. A number believed to be 49% of American voters, according to a Gallup survey in March of 2023.

Regarding those opposed to the bill, Boscola said, “I would like to know, what are they afraid of?”

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