Pennsylvania is a closed primary state. That means you have to be registered with a major party to participate; Republican to participate in the Republican primary, Democrat to participate in the Democratic primary. This system leads many otherwise independent or third party voters to maintain their major party affiliation to have a voice in the primary.
I was asked by a local Libertarian, who is registered to vote Republican, this week, if there is any point to changing party affiliation to Libertarian.
My short answer is “Yes!” Here’s why.
It is simple to change your party affiliation in Pennsylvania. Now that the Libertarian Party has minor party status, we are listed as a choice when residents register. Given the rules of the game in Pennsylvania, voters can change their party affiliation by May 3, 2021 to vote in the May 18, 2021 primary. After the primary, you can change your registration back to your true affiliation just as easily. This is important because the 15% rule (see below) applies to the close of the registration period for the November general election, which is October 18, 2021. After the general election, you can change back again for 2022 Primary just as easily.
According to the Department of State website, in Pennsylvania to be able to participate in the taxpayer funded primary process, a party must have “statewide registration…15% or greater of the combined statewide registration for all statewide political parties.” This 15% mark must be attained “at the close of the registration period immediately preceding the most recent November election.”
Fifteen percent seems a low bar on its face. With the closed primary process, and otherwise affiliated voters maintaining Republican and Democratic voter registration, it is not just an uphill battle. It is a nearly impossible one.
As of February 1, 2021, per the PA Dept of State website, there were 8,818,861 registered voters in the Commonwealth. Of those voters, only 14.5% were not registered Republican or Democrat. Even if all the third party and unaffiliated voters registered to vote with the same party, there would not be enough voters to form a single third major party.
If everyone who is affiliated with one of the two major parties for the purpose of primary voting switched to their true affiliation following the primary, it would be interesting to see what would happen to the percentages. I believe in having accurate information, even if it doesn’t swing in my favor.
So if you are one of those voters affiliated for the primary, I encourage you to change your registration to your true affiliation after the primary and let’s see what happens! Who knows, it might make a difference!