Judging by the low turnout in last Tuesday’s Pennsylvania Primary election, there weren’t many Republicans or Democrats who thought it was necessary to head to the polls.
That’s a shame. Local elections are important because the outcomes more likely to have direct impact on area people than national elections.
As I sat at the kitchen table last Tuesday and read the final of the many pre-primary stories The Daily Item published over the past several weeks, my gut instinct was to hop in the car and go vote.
But I couldn’t.
It wasn’t because I was too busy or disinterested, but because I am an unaffiliated voter. In the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, that makes me and other unaffiliated voters invisible come primary time.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Pennsylvania is one of 12 states that holds closed primaries. So is New York, the state in which I was born and raised. In a closed primary state, if you are not affiliated with a party, you’re not eligible to participate.
I have not been affiliated with a political party for a very long time — since I became a newsroom editor back in the early 1990s. It’s not a rule, but I just don’t think a news executive should be affiliated with a party. I’ve also never contributed to a political candidate of any kind.
There is a national broad spectrum of primary voting rules. Some of the states in which I’ve lived have rules that allow people like me to participate despite that lack of affiliation.
Virginia, where I lived for eight years, has what’s known as an open primary system. In an open primary, you don’t have a party affiliation. When you get to the polls, you choose privately which party’s ballot to vote. That decision doesn’t make you a member of that party.
Critics argue that the open primary system allows the other side undue influence on the opposing party’s nomination process. But I think a system that gives voters the most flexibility and encourages participation is the best way to go.
A close second is the system we experienced in New Jersey. There, unaffiliated voters can vote in any party primary they choose. The Garden State does not allow voters who are registered with a party to cross over and vote in another’s.
Indiana, where I lived for a couple of years, has something known as a partially open primary system. NCSL says voters can cross party lines, but they must either publicly declare their ballot choice or their ballot selection may be regarded as a form of registration with the corresponding party.
The other state we’ve called home, Connecticut, has what’s called a partially closed primary system. Under that policy, according to the NCSL, political parties get to decide whether to allow unaffiliated voters to participate in their nominating contests before each election cycle.
It’s all pretty confusing, and again, in the big picture, it doesn’t seem like that many people care.
I do, and I sure would have liked to have earned one of those “I voted” stickers on my shirt last Tuesday.
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