On Wednesday, October 26, 2022, the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee is scheduled to hold a meeting where a vote is scheduled on HB 1369. This bill would allow voters who are registered as independent to vote on the primary ballot of their choice. This bill is an opportunity to move us towards the future that the Pennsylvania Forward Party hopes to create. Please contact your State Representatives to voice your support for this bill.
Wednesday’s vote follows a hearing on this bill held on Tuesday, August 16, 2022. These are some of the highlights of the hearing:
Representative Seth Grove (R), District 196, is the chair of the State Government Committee and presided over the hearing. He was generally positive to the bill. Representative Christopher Quinn (R), District 168, is the primary sponsor of the bill. Representative Quinn said of this legislation, “I want all Pennsylvanians to play a role. Primaries decide who represents us in Washington, Harrisburg, & in our local elections.”
John Opdycke of Open Primaries was the first speaker. He noted that when the issues of independents are addressed in the primary, they are more likely to vote in the general election. He further noted that primaries are publicly funded. This funding issue severely undermines the argument that primaries should remain exercises of private affiliation.
Representative Francis Ryan (R), District 101, stood out in the questioning of Mr. Opdycke. His questions began rather negative, complaining that the legislation would increase the costs of elections. His exchange began to get heated when Rep. Ryan disagreed with the numbers Mr. Opdycke was citing. His questioning turned to a more positive side when he talked about uniform ballot access for third parties.
The second set of speakers were Jack Wagner and Kelly Cavotta, co-chairs of Ballot PA Vets. They gave voice to the plight of our veterans caused by Pennsylvania’s closed primaries. They noted that about half of all veterans, and many active-duty military, are registered as independent. Many times, our troops do not even find out that they are shut out of the primaries until they try to vote.
One Representative, in particular, showed no sympathy for our veterans in that situation. That person was Representative Paul Schemel (R), District 90. Throughout the day he maintained that primaries are private affairs where political parties decide who will represent them in the general election. Furthermore, he did not see why it would be a burden for soldiers overseas to change their party registration every time they wanted to vote in a primary.
The third speaker was an attorney for the National Conference of State Legislatures, Ben Williams. One of the things the NCSL keeps track of is the various primary systems used around the country. According to the NCSL, Pennsylvania remains one the last nine states to have totally closed primaries. Mr. Williams noted that primaries are just one iteration in the long process to perfect our elections.
Representative Russ Diamond (R), District 102, grilled the speakers throughout the day. He would ask all the speakers whether this legislation was seen by them as the end goal or just a small step towards something even grander. When asked if this was the case for other states, Mr. Williams stated that it was a mix with some states stopping at just opening their primaries and others making more dramatic changes. Representative Diamond did note that it seemed that the only purpose to have party registration is for primaries.
Jennifer Bullock spoke for Independent Pennsylvanians. This organization advocates for major structural reforms to the election process including open primaries, a non-partisan commission to draw district lines, and Instant Runoff Voting (another name for Ranked Choice Voting). Regarding open primaries, Bullock noted that, in addition to veterans, immigrants & government workers also have large populations of independent voters. For one reason or another these independents feel that they should not register to a political party. Representative Schemel, however, was very concerned that these reforms would lead to independents running in party primaries.
Two former state chairs of the Republican & Democratic Committees, Alan Novak & TJ Rooney also spoke before David Thornburgh, the chair of BallotPA. Mr. Thornburgh noted that there are three principals of Pennsylvania holds that would be advanced with open primaries: Fairness, Representation, & Accountability. His is very concerned that supposedly democratic elections today are determined by a sliver of a sliver of the population.
Representative Diamond observed that the legislation is a bit unfair. HB 1369 only gives independents the ability to choose their ballot on election day without giving the same choice to voters registered with a party. He further mentioned that voters do not see primaries as the means parties use to select their candidates. Instead, voters see primaries as a means of winnowing down a crowded field.
Representative Schemel continued to argue that open primaries would have an effect on the right of affiliation. Mr. Thornburgh’s response was that the right would still exist. Open primaries would not prevent parties from endorsing the candidates of their choosing nor would it prevent candidates from affiliating with their desired parties. He further countered that closed primaries are an even greater threat to affiliation. Closed primaries force voters to affiliate with political parties whom they may not agree with.
When asked about further measures that could be taken, Mr. Thornburgh called himself a stubborn Pennsylvanian. He takes one step at a time. He was there to talk about the proposal in question. House Bill 1369 was before them now and he remained laser focused on getting it passed.
You can help to get this bill passed by contacting your state representatives & voicing your support of open primaries. You can locate your representatives with Find Your Legislator.
You can watch the livestream of the meeting on Wednesday October 26, 2022 on the State Government Committee’s website.
The August 16th meeting can be viewed at with this link. Meeting Details
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