Today is primary election day in Pennsylvania. That is if you’re registered as a Republican or Democrat. For the rest of us, it’s just a another day at the office (unless you’re a teacher in a school district that has it off).
In full disclosure, I’m neither a Democrat or a Republican and have not, therefore, voted in a primary in more than 10 years. This fact hasn’t bothered me too much. It seems reasonable that political parties would want to hold closed elections to choose their representative in a general election in which we all can vote. If you want a say in that party’s choices, you need to be a member.
But it’s not necessarily that simple. There are some pretty compelling arguments for why Pennsylvania’s closed system is not terribly fair to the rest of us.
According to a look at voter registration in a May 2014 piece by the Pennsylvania Independent, of the state’s roughly 8.2 million voters, more than one million are independent or unaffiliated. That’s about 13 percent of the population that has no say in the primary.
That population, however, contributes to the more than $20 million in taxes it will cost to hold the primary election. If political parties are the sole beneficiaries of the primary system, why aren’t those parties expected to pay for them?
Several state legislators have spoken out in favor of opening primaries in the state — one of 13 in the country that continue to hold closed primaries. They have argued for open primaries on the grounds of basic fairness and inclusion, but no effort has come close to changing the way primaries run in Pennsylvania.
Adherents to the current system have argued that open elections would allow people outside of the political party to influence an election in a way that would make a primary winner not a representative of the party. For example, conservative voters could sway a Democratic primary to produce a winner that’s not as liberal as the party’s base. It’s a valid concern.
I’m not a all against political parties. I know many good, civic minded people who believe their involvement with a political party is a key to effecting real change. But perhaps opening the primary process would help drive voter interest, turnout and give us results that are a little more reflective of the voters.
What do you think of closed primaries? Let us know in the comments.