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Primary Problem

Can Independents Vote in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania’s upcoming primary and its impact on independent voters

Alana Persson
Digital Marketing Associate
April 17, 2024

One question looms as Pennsylvania gears up for its pivotal primary elections: "Can independents vote in Pennsylvania?" The answer is no, which raises significant concerns about democratic participation. Over one-third of U.S. House seats could effectively be decided by next week thanks to uncompetitive primary elections. Yet, closed primaries exclude over 1.3 million registered independents in Pennsylvania from consequential elections.

Follow our tracker to see how The Primary Problem unfolds nationwide throughout the primary season.

Exploring the Impact of Closed Primaries

Pennsylvania's closed primaries significantly restrict voter turnout. They also bar independent voters who make up 15% of the state’s electorate — a 25% increase since 2010. Closed primaries disproportionately impacts veterans, nearly half of whom identify as independents, and young voters, with 52% of Gen Z and Millennials classifying themselves as independents. This disenfranchisement extends notably among 18-34-year-olds, representing a larger share of independents than Republicans or Democrats. 

Read the Unite America Institute’s latest report, “Not Invited to the Party Primary,” to learn more about the impact of closed partisan primaries on independent voters and the attitudes and perspectives of the independents left out of primaries

Voices from the Community: The "UnPrimary" Rally

The constraints of Pennsylvania's closed primary system were starkly emphasized at the recent "UnPrimary" rally, organized by Ballot PA, to repeal these restrictive voting practices. Notable speakers at the event included former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, former Gov. Mark Schweiker, and State Rep. Jared Solomon, who introduced legislation to open up Pennsylvania's primaries

Unite America’s Executive Director Nick Troiano also emphasized the urgent need for reform to ensure more inclusive and democratic elections. In a conversation with Scripps News, Troiano highlighted the unfairness of the current system, stating,

"No one should be coerced into joining a private organization to have a voice in our democracy right now."

Check out his full interview below to learn more about the Primary Problem in Pennsylvania and how it impacts state and national elections.

The Call for Electoral Reform

In a recent interview, Ballot PA’s Chair David Thornburgh discussed the challenges independent voters face in Pennsylvania due to closed primaries. He underscored the significant number of voters left out of the primary process and called for reevaluating how primaries are conducted to foster a more inclusive political environment. 

"If you look at how people get elected in Pennsylvania [...] the primary electorate is critical. We look back 20 years at legislative races in Pennsylvania, only 10% of those are decided in the general election, meaning 90% are essentially decided in the primary," says Thornburgh in a recent interview with NBC10 Philadelphia.

Check out his full interview to learn more about the local efforts to open Pennsylvania’s primaries. 


The exclusion of independent voters from Pennsylvania's primaries underscores the need for systemic reform. As the state prepares for upcoming elections, the push for open primaries is about enhancing voter participation and restoring fairness and democracy to the electoral process. By embracing reforms, Pennsylvania can ensure that its elections reflect the will of all its citizens, not just those affiliated with major parties.