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New Statewide Poll Finds Strong Support for Primary Reform

August 27, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Pat Christmas, Policy Director
Committee of Seventy
pchristmas@seventy.org; 919-423-7281

NEW STATEWIDE POLL FINDS STRONG SUPPORT FOR PRIMARY REFORM
Registered voters support open primaries and top-two system for Pennsylvania

PENNSYLVANIA – A new Franklin & Marshall College omnibus poll released today indicates that two-thirds of registered voters in Pennsylvania support open primaries in which all voters can vote for either Democratic or Republican candidates.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Pennsylvania is one of nine states with closed primaries that limit Democratic voters to voting only for Democratic candidates, and Republican voters for Republican candidates. Winners of the two partisan primaries, which are often low-turnout affairs, move on to the general election where all voters and candidates are allowed to participate regardless of party affiliation. More than 1.2 million Pennsylvanians are not registered with a major party and prohibited from participating in publicly-funding primary elections.

Another striking finding is that more than half of voters support top-two primary elections where candidates from all parties are listed on the same ballot and the top two vote getters advance to the general election. All voters are allowed to participate in both the primary and the general. California and Washington are the only states that currently use top-two primaries.

Respondents were also asked about ranked-choice voting (RCV), a relatively uncommon reform but one that has gained significant traction in recent years. Nearly two of five voters surveyed support RCV, but another one in five are uncertain. New York City voters decided to move to an RCV system for municipal primaries beginning in 2021. And voters in Alaska and Massachusetts will both see ballot questions on November 3 that could create systems utilizing RCV.

“These are very promising results, given the limited public discussion and debate around these sorts of electoral reforms,” said Pat Christmas, an Open Primaries PA member. “Especially with communities around the state becoming increasingly dark blue or dark red, we believe it’s critical that our elections be restructured to include all voters and not only partisan bases. The status quo often results in general elections that are uncontested, with voters having no choices at all.”

Open Primaries PA has supported Senate Bill 300, which was passed in the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support in 2019 (42-8), the first primary reform bill ever approved by either legislative chamber. The coalition most recently highlighted touted the benefits of primary reform at a Virtual Advocacy Day ahead of the June 2 presidential primary that was justifiably moved from the April 28 by the Legislature but continued to be restricted only to Democratic and Republican voters.

“We made real progress over the past couple years in elevating open primaries as an important reform that Pennsylvanians want to happen,” said Christmas. “Changing the way we elect public officials to ensure they’re responsive to the broadest possible swath of the electorate would have a huge impact on the work that gets done -- or not done -- in Harrisburg.”

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Open Primaries PA is a growing coalition of civic and business organizations committed to open and free elections in Pennsylvania that lead to responsive and accountable government. Learn more about the new coalition and why Pennsylvania’s closed primary system must change at OpenPrimariesPA.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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