Bill would allow full participation of 1.3 million independent voters
VILLANOVA, PA – Legislation authored by Rep. Chris Quinn (R-Delaware), which would allow almost 1.3 million Pennsylvanians not registered with either of the two major parties to cast a ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primary, was the subject of a House State Government Committee hearing held at Villanova University today.
“Pennsylvania is just one of nine states with completely closed primaries,” said Quinn. “A system like ours that excludes 15% of voters from one-half of the electoral process is fundamentally undemocratic. My legislation, House Bill 1369
, would raise voter participation, increase the competitiveness of many of our elections and put the brakes on increasing political polarization.”
House Bill 1369 would allow independent and unaffiliated voters to choose a party primary in which to participate on Primary Election Day. It would not affect those registered either Republican or Democrat.
“This change is the right thing to do, and it’s the smart thing to do,” said David Thornburgh, chair of Ballot PA, as part of his testimony in support of Quinn’s legislation.
Calling Pennsylvania’s closed primaries “an archaic system,” Thornburgh noted the current system “chips away at a sacred right: their chance at a fair say in how their local, school, county, state and federal taxes are spent. It’s taxation without representation.”
Thornburgh also noted the broad public support for ending closed primaries.
“This overdue change is supported by three-quarters of ordinary voters from every political camp, from libertarian to progressive, from Trump voters to fans of Bernie Sanders and everyone in between.”
John Opdycke, president of Open Primaries, a national non-profit working for more open and inclusive election systems, also offered testimony.
“Independent voters are the fastest-growing group of voters,” said Opdycke. “Their numbers have doubled in the last decade. Denying the fastest-growing group of voters in the Commonwealth the franchise is unsustainable in the long haul.”
Testifying together were Alan Novak, former chairman of the Republican State Committee, and TJ Rooney, former chairman of the Democratic State Committee.
“Repealing closed primaries will allow candidates and parties to talk with more voters earlier in the process,” said Novak.
Rooney also added that repealing closed primaries would provide “access to hundreds of thousands of new voters who could be members of a robust coalition for either party or any candidate.”
Former state Auditor General Jack Wagner, a retired Marine, testified about the disenfranchisement of veterans and active-duty military personnel.
“I don’t know of any issue that is more fundamental in a democracy than the right to vote,” said Wagner. “The veteran population is locked out 50% of the time from our elections.”
“Veterans are at the center of the issue,” he added.
Marilyn Kelly-Cavotta, a retired Army staff sergeant and co-chair of Ballot PA Vets, also offered testimony.
“Every primary election, I find myself having to explain that registered independents cannot vote in the primary,” said Kelly-Cavotta. “This is much harder to explain and justify to veterans. It’s like telling a veteran, ‘Thank you for your service, but not enough thanks for your voice to be heard in a primary election.”
Other testifiers included Jennifer Bullock, director of Independent Pennsylvanians, and Ben Williams, Esq. of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“With our closed primaries, Pennsylvania is an outlier but not in a good way,” noted Quinn. “Our primary system is 85 years old and is now poorly suited to a healthy democracy. Opening our primaries will increase voter participation, including that of veterans and active duty military, and make our elections more competitive.
“I’m grateful the committee received testimony on my bill, and I am prepared to continue the fight to ensure all Pennsylvanians have the right to participate in all of our elections.”
Representative Chris Quinn
168th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: John Kelemen