Why Open Primaries Are So Important

Benjamin Valimont—Interim Secretary Pennsylvania Forward Party

It’s insane to think, but our Commonwealth forces us to register with a major political party in order to exercise our right to vote. Yet 1.1 million Pennsylvanians still choose to remain unaffiliated. They rightly believe that it is absurd that they should register with a party they disagree with.

This requirement is extremely backwards. Pennsylvania is one of the last nine states to bar independents from voting in Primaries.[1] Furthermore, allowing independents to vote in primaries enjoys broad support with about a 3 to 1 ratio of Pennsylvanians supporting it.[2] Out of all our legislative priorities, opening our primaries is one of, if not, the most important to the Pennsylvania Forward Party.

Primaries were originally an election reform themselves. Prior to the 1890’s, party bosses would literally sit in smoke filled rooms and decide who their candidates would be. In response to this, democracy minded reformers began to require primaries to give more people a voice in deciding who the candidates would be. Fast forward to today, and the Pennsylvania Forward Party is trying to build on their work and we can look to Nevada for inspiration.

Nevada is one of those eight other closed primary states. But they are poised to get off of this shameful list in dramatic fashion. They are doing this through ballot initiative process that will not only open their primaries, but establish a top five non-partisan primary coupled with a Ranked Choice (Instant Runoff) Voting general election. A top five non-partisan primary works by putting all candidates, regardless of political party into the same primary with the five candidates receiving the highest votes advancing to the general election.

Pennsylvania, on the other hand, does not allow ballot initiatives. We have to do everything through the General Assembly in Harrisburg. Trying to convince legislators to change how they are elected is a monumental task. It requires us to tackle the problem in much smaller bites than Nevada. First and foremost, we need to allow independents to vote in the primary elections.

On May 16th, primary day, almost 1.1 million registered voters will be not be allowed to vote. It is even worse when you consider who those people are. One of the largest groups who will lose their right to vote in a few weeks are our veterans. Our military strives to be a non-partisan institution and that is reflected in those who served. Almost half elect to be registered as independent. It is shameful that our veterans, who have given so much for our democracy, will not be allowed to vote on Primary Day in Pennsylvania.

We currently have an opportunity to change this state of affairs. Three bills are in the process of being introduced in the General Assembly: one by Senator Laughlin (R-Erie): one (HB 976) by Representative Marla Brown (R-Lawrence County); and one (HB 979) by as Representatives Jared Solomon (D-Philadelphia) and Christopher Rabb (D-Philadelphia). There are a lot of hurdles these bills will need to go through, but with your support we will be able to open our primaries.

The best way you can support this effort is by contacting your state legislators and voicing your support for open primaries.[3] The best way to do this is with a hand-written note. You can also follow one or more of several non-profits who are active on this issue: Independent Pennsylvanians[4]; BallotPA[5]; and March On Harrisburg[6], to name a few. Writing a letter to the editor of your local paper is also an important way to support this cause. The national Forward Party even has tools to help you do this.[7] Most importantly, we need you to let it be known that open primaries are important to your community.









Benjamin Valimont


I am an advocate for democracy & making our government work for us.