Is The Pennsylvania Primary Open Or Closed? The Keystone State Caters To Establishment Interests

The primary season is winding down, but not before Pennsylvania votes, the biggest bundle of delegates for both parties until California votes in June. So, is Pennsylvania's primary open or closed? For both parties this election cycle, the Keystone State is catering to establishment interests.

For both Republicans and Democrats, Pennsylvania's primary process is a closed one — meaning that in order to vote for a particular candidate, a citizen must be a declared member of that candidate's party. Voters in the state have to be registered with their preferred party at least 30 days before the primary election. This year, that means that the deadline to register as a Republican or a Democrat would have been Saturday, March 26 — and that is a paper registration that has to be sent by mail or physically delivered to an authorized election authority and processed by hand.

As America's political affinities shift over time, closed primaries are having the effect of marginalizing increasing numbers of independent voters who chose not to identify with either mainstream political party. According to a Pew Research Center study from 2015, independents make up about 40 percent of the voting public nationwide, with their numbers surpassing membership in either party. Unaffiliated voters in Pennsylvania make up a significantly smaller number, however. Another Pew Center study looking at party affiliation among adults in Pennsylvania from 2014 found that only 15 percent of the state claimed independence from the binary two-party system.

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Even if the percentage of independents in the state rises by a point to 16 percent, in keeping with a hypothetical linear trend based on the Pew data from above, the number of voters who will not be able to vote for their preferred candidate could be somewhat higher. There has been anecdotal evidence that some Republicans have started feeling the Bern, as well as a token "Democrats for Trump" effort on some social media platforms.

On the GOP side, another unique feature of the state's delegate allocation rules is leaving some prospective voters with a sour taste in their mouth. Republican voters only control the fate of 17 delegates. 54 delegates are unbound and free to vote for whomever they choose. There's another wrinkle that makes things even more anarchic: voters directly elect delegates on a ballot with no other identifying information than their name. The delegate's favored candidate isn't included, reducing the information that voters have to make up their minds about who exactly is representing them.

Pennsylvania's closed primary is a win for the establishment elements in both of the main parties. If you happen to be a voter in Pennsylvania, you can check your registration information and party affiliation here.