In the most recent primary election that occurred in May of this year, 83 percent of registered voters did not cast a ballot. This number is staggering. In portions of my neighborhood, only 5 percent voted. This, sadly, was a trend seen throughout the Northeast and the city as a whole.
Why do so many people choose not to vote? The reasons are many. People lead busy lives, work multiple jobs, are infirm or ill, do not know a primary is happening, or do not think their vote makes a difference.
But the fact that an overwhelming majority do not participate in deciding their elected officials represents a clear statement that the status quo is broken. Something is not working.
Since arriving in Harrisburg to represent the Lower Northeast as a state representative, I have worked hard to push election reform packages that remove barriers to voting. A key barrier is that independents - or those who are so-called “not affiliated” with any party - cannot participate in primary elections beyond voting on citywide referenda. Nearly 750,000 registered independent voters in the state of Pennsylvania are shut out of the primary process.
In many parts of the city and the state that are dominated by one party, the primary becomes the de-facto “general” election. So what happens is that people elected by a fraction of the population represent everyone.
I believe we need to remove this barrier so that these 750,000 people can participate in primaries. The first bill that I asked my colleagues to co-sponsor in Harrisburg was to open up primaries. Unfortunately, my bill - HB 1783 - is stuck in the House’s State Government Committee, chaired by Rep Daryl Metcalfe. Because I am a Democrat and he is a Republican, he believes that my bill should never be voted on in his committee. Despite the fact that my ideas for reform have broad bipartisan support, he repeatedly rejected any attempt to meet with me, even when I offered to visit his district in Western Pennsylvania.
No one party has a monopoly on good ideas, and just because people do not want to affiliate with any party does not mean they should be frozen out of elections.
Thankfully, we have momentum to circumvent Rep Metcalfe’s obstructionism. The majority leader of the House, Dave Reed, has embraced my bill and introduced his own open primaries bill that will go to the Rules Committee that he runs. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati is also backing this concept.
A lot can happen between now and the end of the legislative session in November, but it is my hope that we will take the common-sense step to open up our primaries. In time, maybe the math will flip - and 83 percent of people do vote, and only 17 percent do not. A person can dream.
This article provided by NewsEdge.