Delco Republican proposes opening Pa. primaries to independent, unaffiliated voters

A woman deposits a ballot in an official ballot drop box outside of Philadelphia City Hall
A woman deposits her ballot in an official ballot drop box at the satellite polling station outside Philadelphia City Hall on Oct. 27, 2020. Photo credit Mark Makela/Getty Images

HARRISBURG (KYW Newsradio) — Pennsylvania is one of just nine states that does not permit the participation of anyone other than registered Republicans and Democrats in its primary elections.

Rep. Chris Quinn (R-Delaware County) has introduced legislation opening the state’s primaries to the almost 900,000 independent and non-partisan voters in the state.

“Independents and unaffiliated voters are the fastest growing segment of the electorate,” noted Quinn. “As taxpayers, they fund our elections, but our law excludes them from one-half of the electoral process. That’s fundamentally unfair.”

Quinn’s legislation, House Bill 1369, would permit independent, non-partisan and unaffiliated voters to cast a ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primary.

The legislation would not affect those registered as Republican or Democrat.

Quinn noted the moderating effect on policymaking that he believes is likely to result from open primaries.

“Many of us in the legislature represent districts that are reliably red or blue, Republican or Democrat. That means many of us are effectively elected in the primary. Considering the narrow participation in many primaries, a sizable bloc of legislators only have to worry about the most vocal and extreme elements of their party," he said.

“This hinders dialogue, making it difficult to find common ground and build consensus. It also boosts polarization and division which inhibits crafting solutions to the larger challenges facing our Commonwealth.”

All Pennsylvania voters will be able to vote next week due to the presence of ballot questions on proposed constitutional amendments reforming the exercise of emergency powers in Pennsylvania.

“It’s crucial that all Pennsylvanians have their say on these important ballot questions,” said Quinn.

“However, because of our closed primaries many independents aren’t even aware that they’re eligible to vote on May 18. Issues as consequential as the power to shut down businesses, restrict travel, and impose broad, life-altering mandates should be decided by more than 20% of registered voters.”

Quinn has also introduced House Bill 1376, which would allow for curbside voting for people with disabilities.

“Pennsylvania is just one of nine states with entirely closed primaries,” said Quinn, citing information from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Our system of government and the policymaking process is improved with greater participation. Open primaries will increase participation and force us to look for common ground on the challenges we face,” he added.

Both bills were referred to the House State Government Committee for consideration.