EDITORIAL: Primary decision deadline
York City residents have just hours to decide which primary race is more important to them: the one that will decide who will be the city’s mayor or the contest to choose York County’s next district attorney.
Because of Pennsylvania’s closed primary system, they can’t have an impact on both.
Both Jonelle Eshbach and Dave Sunday are seeking the Republican nomination to be York County’s next DA. No Democrat has thrown a hat in that particular ring.
Likewise, no Republican is running for mayor of York City, where Incumbent Kim Bracey is being challenged for the post by a fellow Democrat, Councilman Michael Helfrich.
Barring long-shot write-in campaigns from as-yet unknowns, both of those races essentially will be decided in the May 16 primary election.
Pennsylvania is one of only nine states that have a completely closed primary system, meaning only registered Republicans and Democrats can vote in their respective parties' nominating contests.
Non-affiliated voters are completely shut out and can't participate until November, when people can vote for members of any party.
Some legislative districts in York County are so safely Republican that Democrats have been known to switch party affiliation before primary elections.
They feel it's the only way they can influence the ultimate outcomes, since Democratic candidates either don’t run or they don't have realistic shots in general elections.
Voters can always switch back to their preferred party before the November election, but the whole process is a hassle and the voters are locked in for the primary.
What if there are important, decisive races on both sides of the ballot, as is the case for York City voters this year?
They’re just plain out of luck, until Pennsylvania lawmakers change the system.
State Sen. Lisa Boscola — a Democrat representing Lehigh, Monroe and Northampton counties — has introduced Senate Bill 280, which would allow non-affiliated voters to participate in primaries by choosing a party just for the day of the election.
It’s a good start, but it doesn’t go far enough — and it wouldn’t help York City voters in the upcoming primary. Under the senator’s plan, they still would only be able to influence one of the two races — the outcomes of which will affect them for years to come.
California came up with an interesting solution in 2010 under then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — a top-two primary system. That’s where all voters choose from a single list of candidates, regardless of party, and the top two vote-getters advance to the primary.
According to a recent Los Angeles Times report, besides engaging more voters, the new system has encouraged more people to run for office, and the candidates have been more moderate compared to those who ran before the change.
It’s worth noting that, a few years before the primary change, California also revamped its redistricting system by establishing an independent commission to draw new legislative maps, which also shifted power from the political parties to the voters.
Unfortunately, the people of Pennsylvania haven’t shown the same will to reform their own elections.
That means York City voters have to choose — and soon.
The deadline to register with a political party, and have a say in one race or another, is Monday, April 17. Voters can do that online at the Pennsylvania Department of State website.