The Lead

Pa. House committee will consider open primary legislation

By: - October 12, 2023 2:47 pm

Photo illustration by Justin Grimes (Photo via Flickr | CC-BY-SA 2.0).

The Pennsylvania House State Government Committee will consider a pair of bills next week that would do away with the state’s closed primary system.

“There are as many as one million unaffiliated voters in Pennsylvania, and their numbers have been increasing,” House State Government Committee Chair Scott Conklin (D-Centre) said in a news release. “These voters pay taxes and help fund our electoral system, yet they’re excluded from key local, state and federal primary contests.”

A closed primary system allows only registered Democrats or Republicans to cast ballots in primary elections. Independent or unaffiliated voters are shut out of that early part of the process, and must wait until the general election to vote.

HB 979, sponsored by Rep. Jared Solomon (D-Philadelphia) and HB 976, sponsored by Rep. Marla Brown (R-Lawrence) are the two bills that will be considered at the Tuesday meeting. It seems to be a rare issue that has bipartisan support in Harrisburg. “I appreciate the committee’s consideration and look forward to finding the best outcome for all registered voters in PA,” Brown said in the release. 

There have been ongoing conversations about opening up Pennsylvania’s primary elections for years, although momentum appears to be shifting in favor of making a change. Committee of Seventy, an advocacy group for better government, has ramped up its efforts to get Pennsylvania’s primaries opened, enlisting the help of veterans who tend to register as independent voters, as former Steeler and veteran Rocky Blier testified at a hearing last year.  And in September, five of Pennsylvania’s most recent governor’s penned a letter offering their support for open primaries.

In an interview with the Capital-Star on Thursday, Solomon said open primaries are a “critical civil rights issue” and said it’s time to address it. 

“I think when it comes to amplifying voices in our democracy, the time is right now,” Solomon said. “And that’s my hope that we take this issue up with the urgency that it deserves and make sure that our next generation of Pennsylvanians are not shut out of our democracy.”

Solomon also said that unaffiliated voters are the “fastest growing party in our state in every House and Senate district” and that the largest group of people that are unaffiliated are voters aged 18-24. 

On Monday, the day before the bills will be considered in committee, students offering their support for repealing closed primaries in Pennsylvania will hold a rally in the state Capitol rotunda. 

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John Cole
John Cole

John Cole is a journalist based in Philadelphia. He's worked for various outlets such as The Northeast Times, PoliticsPA, and PCN. In these previous roles, he covered a wide range of topics from local civic association meetings to races across the commonwealth. He earned a degree in journalism from Temple University.