Collett: Protecting our right to vote and expanding it for independents

As we head into the final few weeks before the General Election, I find myself thinking a lot about what voting means — not just the act of pressing a button on a voting machine — but the active role we play in the development of our country, our commonwealth, and our communities, by showing up and making our voices heard.

I find myself thinking about the countless times I left a nursing shift, picked up my son from day care, then hustled over to my voting precinct and cast my ballot. I find myself thinking about those I’d see in line with me who had also worked full shifts, spent the day in school, braved the elements, and did whatever it took to be there, waiting, patiently, but with a sense of profound civic duty, to stand up and be counted.

The people of my district have let me know how important protecting our right to vote and the concept of free and fair elections are to them. The vast majority agree that a person’s right to vote should not be limited by their political affiliation. Indeed, the people in this area pride themselves on voting for people, not parties. And the concept of closed primaries — elections in which you can only vote if you are a registered democrat or republican — just feels wrong to them.

It feels wrong to me too. That’s why I am proud to be a co-sponsor of SB 690, introduced by my Republican colleague Senator Laughlin, which would bring open primaries here to Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania is one of only nine states that has completely closed primaries, prohibiting independent voters from fully participating in primary elections. And because these voters cannot vote for their preferred candidates, all too often, they don’t participate in primaries at all, missing out on the chance to make their voices heard on ballot questions impacting everything from municipal finances to changes to the State Constitution.

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Roughly 1.2 million Pennsylvanians are registered either unaffiliated or independent. That’s nearly 16% of registered voters effectively silenced. When we deny 16% of voters the ability to participate, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to have a truly representative government.

Studies show that open primaries don’t benefit one party over another. But they do benefit our veterans, nearly half of whom do not identify with a major party. Open primaries also benefit younger voters registered as independent. Engaging with younger voters earlier in the electoral cycle is better for our democracy in the short and long term.

We know that when people have a voice in the process, they are more likely to have trust in that process and have confidence in its results. With all the time we’ve spent over the past two years exhaustively discussing ways to improve trust in the election process, this bill is such an easy and uncontroversial step. Let’s rectify our archaic system and rightfully allow independent voters to completely participate in the electoral system they finance as taxpayers.

This article originally appeared on The Intelligencer: Collett: Defending our right to vote and expanding it for independents