Penn. Voter: Closed Primaries Are a Modern Version of 'Taxation Without Representation'

Photo Credit: Eren Yildiz / Unsplash


Efforts to reform Pennsylvania's closed partisan primary system continue with groups like Ballot PA urging state lawmakers to give independent voters equal voting rights in the state's taxpayer-funded elections process.

A white paper published by Ballot PA in 2022 and updated in 2023 found that 90% of state House and Senate races were so safe for one of the two major parties in 2022 that the primaries were the only consequential elections.

More specifically, the primary for the dominant party.

In almost every single case, legislative elections are decided in the primaries, but Pennsylvania is one of nine states that uses a purely closed partisan primary system. The system bars voters outside the major parties from participating.

In a recent letter to the editor to PennLive, Pennsylvania voter Arthur Florio wrote:

"Independent voters pay state taxes and some of those taxes pay for our primary elections. Thus, our closed primaries serve as a modern version of taxation without representation."

The latest available voter registration data on the Pennsylvania Department of State's website shows that about 15% of registered voters are not affiliated with the Republican or Democratic Parties.

Ballot PA notes in their white paper that despite this being a lower percentage than other states "independent voters were the fastest-growing voter segment" between 2012 and 2022. If trends continue, that 15% will continue to climb.

And right now, this amounts to over 1.2 million voters.

Research shows that independent voters are more likely to be veterans, more likely to be young, and more likely to be voters of color. This gives an insight into the voters who are being disenfranchised by closed partisan primaries.

 "We have hundreds of thousands of veterans in this commonwealth who are political independents and the idea that you can prohibit men and women who served in uniform from voting for their own elected representatives is just wrong," Florio wrote.

Primary reform advocates are calling on lawmakers to open primaries to independents. A bipartisan bill was introduced in the 2023-2024 legislative session and cleared one House committee

The bill, however, was tabled in the State House back in October. No additional action was taken on it. Still, reform advocates have not given up their fight for equal and meaningful voting rights for independent voters.  

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Image reference
Photo Credit: Eren Yildiz / Unsplash. Unsplash+ License obtained by author.