Few Voters Will Decide Outcomes in 5 State Primaries this Week

Beth Hladick
Few Voters Will Decide Outcomes in 5 State Primaries this Week

Few Voters Will Decide Outcomes in 5 State Primaries this Week.

The primary season is now in full-swing, with elections and primary runoffs across states until mid-September. 

While endorsements, victories, and surprising race outcomes will continue to flood the headlines in various combinations, one thing remains constant: very few voters are having an outsized influence on results in primary elections. 

All eyes will be on Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania’s contests Tuesday, where the primary problem will be on full display. 

Gerrymandering and closed primary election laws will make some contests especially egregious, an ailment not unique to one party. In Oregon and Pennsylvania — two of nine states that bar independents from participating in primaries — more than 1.8 million voters won’t be able to participate in Tuesday’s elections, simply because they aren’t registered Republicans or Democrats. 

Not only is this problematic because voters are barred from elections of consequence. It’s also problematic because even those that can participate don’t have much choice in their representation. Last cycle, only 1.3% of eligible Pennsylvania voters decided 83% of the commonwealth’s U.S. House delegation in the primary election. 15 of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts were rated as “safe” — and of those 15, 14 saw only one candidate run in the favored party’s primary. 

As a result, 7.6 million Pennsylvania voters practically had no say in who represented them in Congress during the last two years.

And it’s on track to be just as bad this week. 

The commonwealth lost a congressional district in the reapportionment process; now 14 of 17 seats are considered “safe,” for one party, and only three seats are competitive.

In the Republican primaries for both governor and Senate, the nominee is certain to win with the barest plurality support. The most recent polling averages showed gubernatorial hopeful Doug Mastriano and senate hopeful Dr. Mehmet Oz with just 32% and 26%, respectively. This comes after Ohio Senate nominee J.D. Vance was victorious with only 32%, and Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen  won the GOP nod with 33.9% of the vote. (As John Pudner of the conservative election reform group Take Back Action wrote, Republican voters would benefit from primary reform.)

It’s no surprise, then, that Pennsylvanians are voicing concern and working to fix the problem. A bill to open primaries to independents passed in the state senate 42-8 last session, before it stalled in the state’s house of representatives, due in part to the pandemic. And it’s popular: 75% of Pennsylvania voters support allowing independents to participate in primaries. 

Opening primaries to independent voters would help solve the Primary Problem. So can reforms like nonpartisan primaries, which are in use in some form in Alaska, California, Nebraska, and Washington. 

Pennsylvanians — including party leaders on both sides of the aisle — are taking note and calling for reform. 

Voters from other states can and should, too.

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