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New Penn. Bill Would Open Primaries to Independent Voters

pa capitol
Created: 27 April, 2023
2 min read

One of the nation’s most contentious battleground states has an opportunity to open its primaries to 1.2 million voters registered independent. A new bill in Pennsylvania recognizes that these citizens have a right to vote in the most important stage of the electoral process. 

Pennsylvania Senate Bill 400 amends the state’s electoral code to say that “[u]enrolled electors shall be permitted to vote in primary elections” in accordance with how primaries are structured by law. “Unenrolled electors” are defined in the bill as voters who register as “none or no affiliation” or “independent.”

“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," Sen. Lisa M. Boscola said in a press conference announcing the bill.

Boscola, a Democrat, is co-sponsoring the bill with Republican Sen. Dan Laughlin. 

Independent voters have long demanded equal rights in state elections. A decade ago, IVN covered efforts by Independent Pennsylvanians to not only improve ballot access for independent candidates but get lawmakers to consider a nonpartisan, top-two primary similar to state primaries in place in California and Washington state. 

Under a nonpartisan primary system, all voters and candidates (regardless of political affiliation) participate on a single primary ballot and the top vote-getters move on to the general election per the rules of the state. In California and Washington, it is the top two candidates. Alaska uses a system that advances the top four candidates.

SB 400 does not overhaul primary elections to such a degree. Primary elections would mostly look the same. Except, independent voters would be able to participate and have a more meaningful say in elections. 

Several states have mixed rules that restrict voter access based on political affiliation, but Pennsylvania is one of 9 states that has a purely closed partisan primary system that forces affiliation with a private political party in order to participate. There is no telling how many voters are registered Republican or Democrat just so they have an equal say in elections.

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