Primaries are the elections that take place early in an election year to decide who each party will nominate as their chosen candidate for the general election in November. An open primary voting system is simple and easy to understand. Anyone can vote in the primary election regardless of their registered party if an open primary system is used. This is beneficial because it allows more people to participate in the political process – specifically independents who are an important voting bloc in the general election. Registered independent voters don’t necessarily lack a preferred party. They just prefer to keep an open mind when it comes to who they vote for on election day. Because independent voters are not allowed to vote in Pennsylvania primaries their preferred candidate may lose before the general election. This results in more contempt for the eventual nominees as independent voters become frustrated with the fact they never got to vote for their preferred candidate. With this in mind, we must switch to an open primary voting system that allows all community members to have a say in who the eventual nominees will be.
Pennsylvania is a closed primary state. According to the Committee of Seventy, closed primaries guarantee “that fewer voters participate, elections are less competitive and, ultimately, political polarization is reinforced, contributing to legislative gridlock and hampering good governance.” The nonprofit advocacy group Open Primaries is also fighting to remove barriers to voting in the primary. According to Open Primaries, “Millions of independent voters—the fastest growing segment of the electorate—are excluded from voting in closed partisan primaries.” This statement is especially true on universities where the majority of students do not identify themselves as either Republican or Democrat. A primary system that prohibits independents from voting is a system that chooses to silence the voices of over 50% of students. Historically, parties had much more power over who the eventual nominees were. Now, the general public is much more involved in the nominating process. It is unfair that a large swath of the population is not allowed to vote in the primary simply because they do not want to register with a party. In the mayoral primary that took place on May 16, 2023, only about 27% of Philadelphia’s population participated in the primary election. Voter turnout last week was just under 31% of the city. This low turnout rate would likely increase if more people were allowed to participate in Philadelphia’s primary. Outdated systems must be updated to fit the changing times.
Jared Solomon, a state representative and candidate for attorney general, is trying to update our primary system. A bill proposed by Solomon (H.B. 979) passed through the state government committee last month and has bipartisan support.
During an interview, Solomon said, “Any bill that increases accessibility to the polls moves us towards a more accessible voting system.”
Solomon went on to say that he would use his position as attorney general to elevate issues regarding voting rights, though admitted the powers of the office were somewhat limited with regard to open primaries. This means that Solomon is doing his part to increase voter accessibility, but also cannot be the sole advocate for this issue. It is on all of us to do our part and advocate for an open primary system by contacting our elected officials.
Open primaries are the first step towards other reforms including ranked choice voting and same day voter registration. If Jared and his allies are successful, Pennsylvania will join a growing list of states that do not disenfranchise voters with unnecessary barriers to vote in the primary. The benefits are clear, but it will require a strong effort on our part to make this change happen. If you support open primaries in any capacity, please contact your state representative and let them know you support Jared Solomon’s bill (H.B. 979) to create a better primary system that everyone can participate in.