When 80 percent of registered voters blow off election day, something is wrong -- particularly for the municipal offices that impact day-to-day lives.
As we noted last week, Allegheny County's low turnout was made even worse than usual by the fact that only 181 independents voted countywide. That's because with Pennsylvania's closed primaries they couldn't vote in any primary contests and probably only showed up if their home municipalities had referenda on the ballots.
It's time to allow independents to vote in open primaries, argues this piece from the California Independent Voter Network. But it won't be easy due to the incumbent/insider protection mechanisms built into the way we vote:
The problem posed by Pennsylvania’s closed primary system is exacerbated by the fact that candidates for local and state offices often cross-file in both the Republican and Democratic primary elections, which can easily result in uncontested general election races (if an uncontested election can be called a race). One lawmaker in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, Democrat Eugene DePasquale, has proposed legislation that would open the system to allow Independents to vote in party primaries. "When you're cross-filing, you're essentially saying it's a nonpartisan election . . .So especially in those cases, there's a need for this," DePasquale recently told the York Daily Record. However, the bill has yet to receive a vote in the legislature.
Perhaps one might argue that if Independent Pennsylvanians are so frustrated with the Democratic and Republican parties, they can register their discontent by voting for Independent or third party candidates in the general election. But Democratic and Republican party activists work tirelessly to ensure that such candidates do not appear on the ballot. Last year, for instance, all of the third party and Independent candidates for statewide office were effectively purged from the ballot when Democrats and Republicans promised to contest every single signature on their filing petitions, threatening hefty fines for the candidates in question. Independent and third party candidates must gather nearly 20,000 valid sigantures to appear on the general election ballot. Democrats and Republicans are required to gather just 2,000 to appear on the primary ballot.