If you’re reading this, you know Pennsylvania has a primary election on Tuesday, May 21.
In theory, parties stand for different principles, and primaries give Republican and Democratic voters the chance to choose who best represents their principles.
Pennsylvania has closed primaries, that is, only R’s can vote in the R primary and only D’s vote in the D primary.
Then, in the November general election, those voters (of any or no party) who take the trouble to vote (usually around 1 in 4 in an off-year) choose the winners.
In the May 21 primary, suppose you are a registered Democrat. All candidates on your primary ballot are Democrats, right? Wrong!
Through a bizarre fiction, judicial and school board elections are considered non-partisan, so that R’s can “cross file” by submitting D signatures to get on the D ballot for those positions, and vice versa.
See what your ballot looks like by downloading it at the County Voter Services site.
If you want to know before voting which are the D’s and R’s on the ballot for the cross-filed positions, check online in advance or ask outside the polls. Once you’re inside, it’s too late.
But now here’s the surprise: as in 2011, a bipartisan team is running candidates for West Chester Area School Board. In 2011, a totally unprecedented write-in campaign resulted in the first Democrat ever being elected to the board. It could have been a R; the point is that the bipartisan team all supported and support public education as a vital resource that reflects and enhances the community and its values (including home values).
That’s what school board members should do, right? On a school board, more than anywhere, we need citizens who care about education, have good judgment and open minds, and listen to all constituencies and diverse views. There are other cases of bipartisan collaboration in school boards; for example, two current members of the Unionville-Chadds Ford school board ran as a bipartisan team in 2011. That should be less rare. And above all, board members need to be able to work together productively.
Many Pennsylvanians (and 47 other states) don’t think school boards should figure in partisan primary elections. Under bills currently filed in Harrisburg, board candidates would get the required signatures over the summer and face off in November. Then voters would choose the most qualified candidates, those with a commitment to advancing public education without regard to outside ideologies—and yes, even those who are neither R’s nor D’s might actually have a chance to serve their community as board members.
The partisan hostility that, with some exceptions, is eating away at all levels of our representative government comes from the two-party system. And where does the two-party system come from? From winner-take-all elections.
Other systems such as proportional voting and run-offs, used in some other countries, ensure that a candidate that a majority of voters don’t like doesn’t win. But here, suppose that for a given position three candidates (say, a D, a R, and a Green) pretty evenly divide the vote. One of them will win with, say, 35% of the vote. And suppose that one has won a very divided primary against several others. What is the word for the opposite of a mandate?
Local voters need to do their part to break down partisan gridlock. Tuesday would be a good time to take further steps in that direction.