There is a growing push for open primary elections in Pennsylvania and the initiative is getting bi-partisan support.

Even with more support, insiders say it will take some convincing for many faithful republicans and democrats to buy in to the idea.

You may have seen a big ad in print recently, thanking Senator Dan Laughlin for his leadership to "repeal" closed primaries in Pennsylvania.

The ad was paid for by Ballot PA.  We learned that the chair of that initiative is David Thornburgh, son of former Governor Dick Thornburgh.

In a Zoom interview he said the push is about making sure the nearly 1.2 million registered, but unaffiliated voters in the state, are not left our of a process that their taxes pay for.

"It's about fairness," Thornburgh said. "We all pay for elections we all ought to be able to participate and that's to a tune of about $50-million a year, so it's not chump change.  The other thing about fairness that jumped out at us, is about half of all veterans consider themselves political independents so that could  mean in PA we're shutting out hundreds of thousands of veterans from primary elections." 

Laughlin's Senate Bill 400, co-sponsored by Senator Lisa Boscola, would allow unaffiliated voters to choose the democratic or republican ballot in the primary.

Erie County democratic chair Jim Wertz supports the open primary idea, and he's been taking his power point, showing the growth of independents--especially young voters -- on the road to make the case. "More young voters are coming in as independent, we're encouraging them to vote but we're giving them little to choose from. It's really about the future of democracy and the democratic process, to ensure that all of our voters have a voice at the table both in the primaries and later in the general elections," Wertz said. 

The local democratic party chair knows the biggest opposition to the idea comes from democrats and republicans who want to protect the primary as a way for party members to choose their nominees.  But his research shows that most independent voters have partisan leanings, and he wants them to be engaged in the election process.

"About one third of PA voters are registered independents, and those folks deserve a voice in our elections in our publicly funded elections," Wertz said. "Many of those folks have partisan leanings or partisan interests but choose to identify themselves as independent.  I feel like the more people we get participating in these primary processes, the more enthusiasm we will have for our candidates in the general election as well," he added.

As proof of bi-partisan support, Ballot PA talked with five former Pennsylvania governors and all five, including Tom Ridge, signed on just this week to endorse the open primary initiative.  "Five former governors just stepped out to endorse this bill," Thornburgh said, three republicans, two democrats, all living former governors, and you know my father was a great former Republican Governor Dick Thornburgh and I guarantee you he would be among that number if he were still living."