Open Primaries Now
Philadelphia is where I was born and grew up, amid the subeconomy of poverty in South Philly’s black community. I know something about feeling trapped at the bottom of the world with little hope. I became a doctor to help improve the conditions in which people live and to help others overcome those odds. I became involved in political reform after my medical residency. As a young physician practicing on the West Side of Chicago, I saw firsthand how isolated the community was from the political processes that directly affected people’s lives through housing, education, health care, social development, and more. The state of politics is one of deep moral crisis in which partisanship is eroding our government and dividing the people. It’s not sufficient to say “you have to vote” because the process itself has been corroded and corrupted by partisanship. The African American community always has been on the forefront of the fight for fairness, inclusion, civil rights, and democracy. Our community has an important role to play in supporting and pushing important reforms — like open primaries — so that every voter can participate. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the passage of the 14th Amendment, which states that “no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” I believe that the nation’s ideals can only gain full expression through an open and democratic political process. And yet in Philadelphia’s own state, democratic processes have been thwarted by closed primaries, which allow only those registered in a political party to vote. This excludes independent, unaffiliated, and third-party members. In Pennsylvania, that includes 1.2 million unaffiliated and third-party voters. Many of those voters are young people and people of color. Independents are the fastest growing group of voters in the state. Fortunately, legislation has been introduced in the Legislature to open primary elections to independent voters. As Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati a Jefferson County Republican, noted: “In our most recent primary election, only 18 percent of Pennsylvania’s registered voters went to the ballot box to cast a vote. The low turnout can in part be attributed to voters feeling disenfranchised by both major parties, who have taken control of our primary process. Allowing more people the opportunity to have a voice in their representation is an important step toward ensuring democracy.” Partisan rancor is only worsening and continuing to force Americans further apart. It’s time to fix our democracy and give power back to the people, not to the parties.