primary elections

Open Primaries in Pennsylvania? Lawmaker Pushes for All Voters to Have a Say

State Sen. Dan Laughlin, a Republican in Erie County, proposed legislation allowing all registered voters to cast ballots for candidates in primary elections. Pennsylvania has some of the most restrictive primaries in the country.

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The push to open up primary elections for all registered voters in Pennsylvania gained momentum on the May 18 primary with new legislation introduced in the state Senate.

Pennsylvania's current election setup is among the most restrictive in the country, according to election advocates. Currently, only registered Democrats can vote for Democrats in the primary election and registered Republicans can vote for Republicans.

More than 1.3 million independent voters in Pennsylvania cannot take part in the primary, though all registered voters may vote on ballot questions.

State Sen. Dan Laughlin, a Republican from Erie County, introduced a bill on Tuesday that would bring Pennsylvania in line with many other states that allow all voters to cast ballots for a political party's candidates.

Laughlin's bill would allow independent voters to choose a political party when they go to the polling place on a primary election, and cast a ballot for the candidates of their choosing running for that party's nomination.

David Thornburgh, the longtime executive director of election watchdog Committee of Seventy, said Laughlin's bill would be the first step in allowing more voters to have a say in who is elected in Pennsylvania. Other states, he said, have already moved to even more open ways of holding elections.

"We’ll continue to have the benefit of observing how other states implement various primary and electoral reforms, including promising innovations with nonpartisan primaries and ranked-choice voting," said Committee of Seventy CEO David Thornburgh. "But for now, allowing independent voters unaffiliated with any political party to have a say on people who will represent them in public office should be a no-brainer."

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