State election reform is a Primary concern
How embarrassing was turnout in our recent Primary Election?
We’re going to go out on a limb here and say a higher percentage of people voted in that Internet-fueled balloting as to whether it’s “Yanny” or “Laurel” than those interested in backing a candidate for public office. Yeah, it’s that bad. In Delaware County, for example, Democrats were selecting among 10 candidates – down from the original 14 – seeking to fill the newly created 5th Congressional District.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to seize a vacant seat as Democrats try to flip the House in D.C. due to former U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan’s decision not to seek re-election after he became ensnarled in a scandal involving a sex harassment complaint filed against him by a former staffer and his use of taxpayer funds to settle the matter.
It clearly energized the candidates. The voters? Not so much. Only 22 percent of those eligible Democrats in the district bothered to show up at the polls.
It was the same sad tune on the GOP side of the aisle, where voters were facing a crucial decision among three candidates looking to challenge incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf. Only 21 percent of Republicans cast ballots.
In other words, nearly four out of every five voters exercised one of our most precious constitutional rights.
The Primary Election’s function is to nominate the party’s candidates for elected positions. If your favored candidate did not win, and you did not vote, you can point at least part of the finger of blame in the mirror.
There are the usual tired arguments. It’s only a primary, it’s a non-presidential year, without the sizzle of that top-of-theticket battle. And, at least for those who planned to wait until after dinner to cast their ballot, there was also a challenger from a third-party candidate – Mother Nature. Wicked storms featuring high winds, hail, lightning and drenching downpours rumbled across the region just in time for the afterrush hour.
The same pitiful turnout was evident across the state. In Philadelphia just 17 percent of registered voters showed up at the polls. That means a whopping 825,000 didn’t bother.
There is an inherent danger in allowing such a miniscule percentage of the voters to decide who our candidates are. That means this small group, usually some of the most strident – and partisan – voters drive the agenda and shape policy.
So what to do about it? How do we get more people involved in the civic process?
Pennsylvania does not do anyone any favors when it comes to voting. The state insists on making it more difficult than it should be to take part in the process.
Things that could be explored should include easier voter registration, extended hours or days of voting, and even the ability to vote by mail or online.
Several top lawmakers are looking to address one of the major foibles of the Primary Election. That, of course, is the fact that only those aligned with one of the major parties is allowed to participate.
Unaffiliated voters, or those registered as Independent, are left on the outside looking in, missing out on the crucial role of selecting candidates and being told to come back in November.
House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, this week circulated a memo that would allow Independent and third-party voters to take part in the Primary. The way it would work is that an independent voter can choose when they enter the polling place whether they want to take part in the Republican or Democratic Primary. Once inside they can utilize a write-in vote if they so desire. There are nearly 750,000 voters in Pennsylvania who are registered as either Independent or non-affiliated.
Reed says he is taking the action to restore citizens’ faith in government. Anything that gets more people involved in the process should be embraced.
Reed sees himself as a change agent. Good thing. Because a recent poll conducted by Franklin & Marshall College indicated the public believes state government and politicians are the biggest part of the problem.
We won’t argue with that. Or waste our time on those who believe we’re better off with a select few dominating these important decisions, as opposed to possibly an uninformed throng.
Let Independents and thirdparty folks join the party.