Pennsylvania’s closed primary elections shut out more than one million voters from important elections every year.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, nearly 1.1 million voters are registered as unaffiliated with a political party or Independent. This segment of the state’s electorate has been increasing for years - and is now the fastest growing segment of voters - consistent with a national trend of voters identifying as independents. But in Pennsylvania, these voters are prevented from participating in the local, state and federal primaries that are likely the most important elections in their communities.
From local council or commissioner to the U.S. presidency, more than one out of every seven registered voters are barred from having a say in a critical part of the electoral process. This occurs despite the fact that primaries, which cost ~$20 million each spring, are funded with tax dollars from every Pennsylvanian regardless of their political affiliation. That's why it's time to repeal PA's closed primaries.
The current system guarantees that fewer voters participate, elections are less competitive and, ultimately, political polarization is reinforced, contributing to legislative gridlock and hampering good governance.
Ballot PA believes in:
- Fairness in representation: More than one million Pennsylvanians are shut out of primary elections that often determine who represents them.
- No taxation without representation: Primary elections are funded with tax dollars from every Pennsylvanian regardless of whether they can participate.
Accountability in elections: Public officials should be accountable to the electorate at large, not party bases.
Repealing Closed Primaries in Pennsylvania will ensure that ALL voters matter and ALL votes count.
Ballot PA supports the repealing the closed primary process for Pennsylvania's elections. However, there are numerous other election systems to consider, and we encourage an informed debate around which would best serve the voters and the Commonwealth.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are six types of primary elections, all of which are more inclusive and include a broader swath of the electorate than the closed primary system used in Pennsylvania. Several variations include:
- Open to Unaffiliated Voters – Unaffiliated voters can participate in any party primary they choose, but voters who are registered with one party are not allowed to vote in another party’s primary.
- Open – Voters may choose privately in which primary to vote.
- Top-Two – Every voter, regardless of party registration, uses the same ballot listing all candidates. The top two vote-getters in each race, regardless of party, advance to the general election.
New legislation introduced in the PA General Assembly would allow the 1.1 million independent and unaffiliated voters shut out of primary elections in Pennsylvania to choose a Democratic or Republican ballot. We support this legislation and urge members of both parties to sign on.
Closed primaries have been used in the Commonwealth for generations. But our politics have changed; our communities have changed; our voters have changed. So should our elections.
Ballot PA is a project of the Committee of Seventy and is a growing coalition of civic, community and business organizations committed to open and free elections in Pennsylvania that lead to responsive and accountable government.
Why we are working to repeal closed primary elections
The Ballot PA Voteswagon Tour
Early in September, we'll be launching a statewide tour with our custom Voteswagon featuring veterans and bipartisan leaders to highlight the disproportionate impact closed primaries have on our veteran community in Pennsylvania.
PA's former Republican & Democratic party leaders:
"Want to help resolve American political dysfunction? Allow open primary elections."