BallotPA Testimony on Bipartisanship for Speaker's Workgroup
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BallotPA Testimony on Bipartisanship for Speaker's Workgroup

Thank you independent Speaker Rozzi and members of your workgroup for asking Pennsylvanians for their ideas on how to reduce hyperpartisanship and promote more bi-partisan governing in Harrisburg. I am David Thornburgh, Senior Advisor to the Committee of Seventy and Chair of Ballot PA, a statewide coalition who wants to repeal the 1937 law that prohibited independent voters from participating in primary elections. That law, which silences the voices of 1.1 million registered voters, is unfair, makes bipartisan governing more difficult, and deserves to go.

We can’t wait until our legislators enter the Capitol building to create incentives for bipartisan governing. We need to focus on the rules of the process by which you get to the building.

We can only change Harrisburg if we change the process we use to send people there. Repealing closed primaries will give more Pennsylvanians a voice in elections. Closed primaries deny more than 1.1 million registered Independent voting Pennsylvania taxpayers their right to vote. We can increase engagement, confidence and accountability in our institutions if we allow more Pennsylvanians to participate.

We need more paths to vote on popular legislation.

According to a poll  conducted by Mark Harris at Osage Research, the bipartisan proposal to repeal closed primaries is supported by 74% of frequent Pennsylvania voters, from across the political spectrum. Ballot PA has seen firsthand how Harrisburg politicians can use the rules to their advantage to block popular legislation. Last session, the House state government committee prevented a vote on legislation to repeal closed primaries. Although widely popular, the legislation did not have the support of a majority of the majority so it was cast aside. We need more paths to votes on popular legislation so the legislature is more responsive to voters. 

Every voter should have the right to vote in every election.

All voters should be able to vote in the elections they pay for. We particularly should not exclude the up to 400,000 PA veterans, or the 50% of young voters, or the third of Latino voters, who identify as independent voters. Forty-one of the 50 states have found some way to include independents. Pennsylvania, where independence was born and raised, should not be the last to secure the right of every voter to vote in every election.