Independent Voters Shut Out In Pennsylvania

The Republicans and Democrats maintain control by keeping nonaffiliated voters and candidates away

I voted just before two o’clock today at the Chestnut Hill Baptist church. More than a dozen young men and women were outside in the stubborn light rain. God Bless them, everyone. As a teen I was a political volunteer too. With pure hearts and ideals, they are an important part of the process. But as they learn more about politics, their hearts will be broken and their ideals shaken.

I turned down all materialsoffered to me. I don’t need them. Not that I am that cemented in my vote, but I am a registered Independent, so I am the redheaded stepchild on primary day. Only Pennsylvania and 12 other states ban Independent voters from voting for candidates in the primary election. It is just one of the many ways that the two parties maintain control and discourage both Independent voters and third-party candidates.

As I walked into the polling place, I kept my head down and my registration status to myself. A couple of years ago an older Democratic party volunteer outside of the Church berated me for “throwing away my vote” by not registering with a party. Truthfully, I don’t believe in either party enough to affiliate myself. But I did not throw away my votes. (I still show up to vote on the ballot issues—just one this time.) My vote was taken from me on this day by a corrupt and antiquated state law.

In the vast majority of states, Independent or nonpartisan voters are able to vote for candidates in a primary election. The voting procedures vary, but the result is the same—no one is denied his or her vote.

As I walked up to the table to sign in to vote, I asked how turnout had been. The two ladies behind the table both looked up and shook their heads. “You’ll be number 83,” one of them said. “Is that low?” I asked. “Yes, very low,” the other woman replied.

The rain kept many away. Others were kept away by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is time to open up the state to Independent voters and ideas. It seems contrary to the concept of democracy to keep anyone away from the polls in a statewide election.

As I walked to my car, a young man in a clear rain slicker said, “Sir?” “I’m registered Independent,” I said. “Well, that doesn’t matter for this petition.'” I turned. He got my attention. He removed some plastic from a petition he was holding, limp from the damp day. “We are getting signatures to allow Cheri Honkala on the general election ballot,” and with that he offered me a pen. “Absolutely,” I said. “I have always admired Cheri’s work with the homeless.”

And so I did get to cast a vote for a candidate. But just as doggedly as political party hacks try to keep Independents from voting on primary day, they try to keep Independent and third-party candidates off the ballot.  Cheri Honkala has a tough road to November. 

As I got in my car, I thought to myself, “In Philadelphia of all places.” Those who forged this country and our Constitution would be ashamed.