State elec­tion re­form is a Pri­mary con­cern

The Community Connection - - OPINION -

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.

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