Over 1 million independents left out of Pennsylvania primaries

The voter registration deadline is Monday — which means in just a few weeks hundreds of voters will be lined up at polling locations across the state — unless, of course, you are one of the more than 1 million voters registered as an independent.

Pennsylvania is one of only nine states that has a closed primary, something experts explained gives political parties a massive amount of control.

“It is important to remember that most states don’t work this way,” said Kristin Kanthak, an associate professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh.

While political parties will have a major role in the election, the more than 1.3 million Pennsylvanian voters registered as independent will not.

“I am registered as an independent because I don’t particularly lean more towards one side, so that’s what fits best for me,” said Melanie Dong, a student at the University of Pittsburgh. “As an American citizen I want to be able to have my voice heard, and it’s unfortunate it won’t be.”

Experts said between 2016 and 2020, independent voter registration grew by nearly 10%, far outpacing the Democratic and Republican parties.

“We have seen an uptick in young people, that 18 to 24 range, who say they don’t want to identify with either political party at this point,” said Dr. Dana Brown, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics.

Brown shared that independent voters, if allowed to participate in the state’s closed primary election, could have a significant influence in electing more moderate candidates.

“If we allowed these independent voters to participate, they may be less likely to choose either far-right or far-left candidates,” said Brown.

Experts agree that if more moderate voters participate in the primary election, it could change what the elected candidates value and look like; they even believe these candidates may be more inclined to work across the aisle.

“One of the reasons we have so few women, or women and men of color, is because we have a closed primary,” said Kanthak.

So will Pennsylvania change to an open primary election? The experts we spoke with say no.

“I don’t expect to see it happen anytime soon, because the people in power were elected using this process, so there is no real motivation to change,” said Kanthak.

However, independent voters we spoke with said they also do not plan on changing.

“I don’t like the idea that I would have to change just so I can vote,” said Dong. She added that it’s unlikely that she would register again just to participate.