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Kenin Bassart

OPINION: It’s Time to End Closed Primaries

By: Andrew Cadwallader, Chauncy Wadsworth, and Hassan Ayub

Today students from Haverford College and ten other colleges from across Pennsylvania will rally in the Harrisburg Capitol rotunda to garner support for open primaries in the state house. This comes as a committee will vote tomorrow, October 17th ,to vote on bills  HB979, and HB976. Both are sponsored by a bipartisan group led by Jared Solomon, Chris Rabb and Marla Brown. The bills were introduced in a collection of three different bills onto the Pennsylvania congressional floor including bill SB400  in the Pennsylvania Senate .

To the benefit of the millions of unaffiliated Pennsylvanian voters, SB400, HB979, and HB976 will allow those registered as unaffiliated “be permitted to vote in primary elections.” These bills are crucial, and we hope to see them consolidated on Governor Shapiro’s desk by the end of this year. As a co-sponsor of SB400, Senator Lisa Boscola said, “Not everyone can identify within the two-party system we currently have. That choice shouldn’t silence their vote.”

We expect to see the passage of Representative Solomon’s HB 979 through the State Government Committee on Tuesday, October 17th. As the Haverford Co-Chairs of Students for Ballot PA, we plan to bring along college students across Pennsylvania and meet with state legislators on that day as well. We are fortunate to have secured a meeting with House Majority Leader Matt Bradford’s Special Assistants, and we are excited to engage them in conversation about this issue.

Closed ballots were first introduced as a way to crack down on small parties then known as “mushroom parties” that crowded the ballot, and were enshrined in the Pennsylvania election code in 1937 to help confused voters. As a result, what was once an effort to help confused voters now prohibits unaffiliated voters from participating in our primary elections. It’s time for that to change. Only seven states across the country remain with closed primaries.

Primary elections in Pennsylvania determine approximately 90% of ultimate electoral outcomes, according to BallotPA Analysis of Independent Voters. In these cases, the primary elections are more competitive than the general ones. As such, the outcome of the primary election ultimately determines the outcome of the  general election. 

For example, since there are a disproportionate number of registered Democrats in Philadelphia, the Democratic primary frequently determines the outcome of the general election. When candidates secure the Democratic nomination, they presumptively secure the popular vote in the general election.

Regardless of their party status, any registered voter in PA deserves to participate in Pennsylvania’s elections. Legislation to reopen primaries would better this state’s democratic process, expanding political participation across our electorate.

So why should we care? 

As college-aged voters, we are at the center of this electoral flaw, as many of our peers have a higher tendency to register as independent voters. In fact, Gallup Polling revealed that more than half of Generation Z voters identify as political independents

Moreover, across PA, urban areas and college towns see higher concentrations of independent voters. House districts with larger student populations like State College and Oakland, Pittsburgh see up to 35% more independent voters than the state average. Those voices have the right to be heard in our primary elections.

While the data does not focus solely on Pennsylvania, we are confident that it reflects that of Pennsylvania’s voters. After all, Pennsylvania frequently reflects the political orientation of the country: for the better or worse, PA is called a swing state for a reason.

Haverford College has always had a strong tradition of consensus voting. Plenary is about adopting the policies that best support our vision for Haverford’s future, giving each and every one of us this opportunity to share our voice. 

Thinking beyond the “Haverbubble,” we remain concerned about the context in which voting and election processes take place in Pennsylvania. Today on Monday 16th our group of  Haverford students hope to make a difference in ending closed primaries in Pennsylvania to include more people in the Democratic process!

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