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Editorial: Let independents have their say in primaries

When primary election season arrives, we believe it’s important to remind readers of how important these often overlooked campaigns really are, and we do so often.

That’s especially the case in so-called off-year elections like this one, in which there are no races for spots in the governor’s mansion, Congress or even the state Legislature, unless there’s a special election taking place.

The races to be decided May 16 mostly involve local races for positions on municipal and county government bodies and school boards, along with races for county and state judge. Local races have tremendous impact, and the people who win these posts have a stronger influence on people’s day-to-day lives than anyone in Washington or Harrisburg.

But even though these positions are so important, Pennsylvania’s election law shuts out a significant portion of the voting public from participating in the election that often all but determines the winners months before everyone gets to vote in November.

Only registered Republicans and Democrats have a say in who gets the nominations on the November ballot in each of these races. Meanwhile more than 1.2 million Pennsylvania voters don’t belong to either major party. The only way they can participate in the primary at all is if there’s a ballot question to be decided.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the reality that primary voters often decide local races once and for all. In many communities one party far outnumbers the other, meaning the dominant party’s nominee is all but assured November victory.

And candidates for school board and county judge are allowed to cross-file, meaning they can seek nominations on the Democratic and Republican tickets. Again, those who succeed typically are well on their way to an easy victory in the fall.

When these things happen, the voters who show up in November are faced with a lot of foregone conclusions rather than competitive races.

That’s why we support the latest bipartisan attempt to change the rules for primary voting. Sens. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton County, and Dan Laughlin, R-Erie County, are introducing legislation to allow voters not affiliated with the two major parties to cast ballots in primaries.

In her remarks on the bill, Boscola emphasized another advantage of a change in the rules: The involvement of independents would make it more likely the parties would nominate candidates closer to the political mainstream. She argued that they would have to reach out to a broader swath of voters, instead of issuing “sound bites and talking points to the extreme right or the extreme left.”

She cited Gallup polling showing that 49% of U.S. residents surveyed consider themselves politically “independent” — the highest level in more than two years and the second-highest in 19 years of Gallup survey data on the question.

Pennsylvania has about 8.6 million registered voters. About 3.9 million are registered Democrats, about 3.4 million are Republicans, more than 900,000 are registered as “no affiliation” and almost 350,000 as “other.”

It’s a shame that participation in primaries typically is woeful even among those who are eligible to vote in them. Why not expand the pool to give more people a say instead of leaving them disenfranchised.

Independents pay taxes just like everyone else and fund these elections in which they are not allowed to participate. It is classic taxation without representation.

This is another one of those barometers in which Pennsylvania is an outlier among states, and not in a good way. Forty-one states allow Independents to vote in primaries.

Attempts to change this rule have failed before due to entrenched interests in both parties. Yet according to the advocacy group Ballot PA, polling finds that 69% self-identified Trump Republicans and 67% of traditional GOP voters say independents should be allowed to vote in primaries. On the other side, 85% percent of progressive Democrats and 75% of centrists Democrats agree.

It’s time for the many voters who aren’t Republicans or Democrats to demand a say. It’s the right thing to do in this closely divided state.

Source: Berkshire mont

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