EDITORIAL: Pa. independents must flex political muscles

York Dispatch
  • There are more than 42,000 independent voters in York County.
  • In 1960, there were fewer than 1,400 independent voters in the county.
  • Pa. independent voters can't vote in the Republican or Democratic primaries.

Once upon a time, in this great land of ours, there were politicians who were identified as liberal Republicans.

There were others who were called conservative Democrats.

IN this file photo, Dusty DeVinney places "vote here" signs onto a cart as he loads election materials at the Willowbank building Monday, April 25,2016, in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, in preparation for the primary election.

Together, they formed a sensible middle that often prevented our political process from veering too wildly to the extremes, either on the left or right.

Those moderate men and women were loyal to their parties, of course, but their primary loyalty normally belonged to the nation.

When an issue pitted party vs. nation, the moderates would often cross party lines and come down on the side of the nation, and we were all better for it.

Those days, unfortunately, appear to be long gone.

Today, thanks largely to excessive gerrymandering, Congressional districts tend to be overwhelmingly Republican or Democrat. As a result, to win the primary, a politician must first appeal to the base or his or her party on the far right or far left.

As a result, when that politician gets in office, compromise becomes a dirty word and the national interest takes a back seat to the party interest. For career politicians, winning the next election becomes more important than serving the national good.

It's a sad state of affairs that has led to the vicious partisan battles that we are witnessing today.

Growing independent voice: Not surprisingly, those folks who describe themselves as moderates have grown weary of the political bomb throwing. More and more have abandoned the two major parties and now call themselves independents or have affiliated with minor political organizations, such as the Green or Libertarian parties.

That became apparent this week when The York Dispatch reported that the number of independent or third-party voters in York County has grown markedly in the last 56 years.

In 1960, just 1,339 county voters were independents. That number has grown to 42,270, or about 15 percent of all registered voters in the county, as of the end of June.

Election 2016: Year of the independent voter?

That's a fairly staggering increase.

There's just one problem. In these parts, folks who aren't registered as a Republican or Democrat have no say on the candidates nominated by the major parties. That's because Pennsylvania has a completely closed primary. You have to be a member of a party to vote in that party's primary. Pennsylvania is one of just 11 states in the nation with such a system.

Time for change: We think it's time for that to change.

Allowing independents to vote in our state's primary would likely give moderate voices a better opportunity to win political office. That, in turn, may turn down the volume on our acrimonious political discourse.

Maybe, just maybe, we'll finally get some more folks in office who value nation over party.

Pennsylvania's independent voice is growing stronger. Now it's time for the independents to flex that muscle. Call or write your legislators and tell them it's time to open up our primary system to all voters, regardless of party.

It's a change that could help the sensible middle tame some of the divisiveness that rules our political experience today.

It's a change that's long overdue.