Nov 4, 2022
Is voting Independent really a wasted vote?
People tell Independents running for office that anyone voting for them is “wasting their vote.”
If you look at our Pennsylvania State House elections and our Harrisburg lawmaking though, it’s clear party voters throw away votes.
In Pennsylvania, reliable party-lever pullers rarely get a say in who their State House Representative is. As party stalwarts, in the general election they will, of course, vote for their party’s candidate. Their big chance for a personal, democratic decision is in their party’s primary.
But, statewide in 2022, 82% of all Pennsylvania State House primary races were uncontested and, in Delaware county, since 2000 94% of these primaries have been uncontested. (1) In Swarthmore, it’s even worse: 100% of State House primary races have been uncontested all the way back to 1992. (2)
But no worries, party leaders choose the State Representative candidate for their voters and majority Democratic areas end up with Democratic Representatives and majority Republican areas get Republican Representatives.
The catch is in Harrisburg, it’s a legislator’s party and position and not their character or their ideas that decides whether their legislation gets a floor vote.
How about some PA State House 2021-22 legislator batting averages? For bills introduced (legislator’s at bats) to house floor votes (hits), the PA House Republican team batted 0.316. That’s 1930 Phillies strong, a stand-out team at the plate but with terrible pitching. The Democratic PA House team was different, batting 0.014, worse than any MLB team or player ever. (3,4)
But even on a high hitting team, some players are super stars. Top players include committee chairs and party leaders. We’re talking impossibly high batting averages. House Appropriations Chair 0.714, House Finance Chair 1.000, House Majority Leader 1.000.3 They hardly miss. The highest Democratic player’s 2021-22 Harrisburg average is 0.143.(3)
For our area, it’s the same story. For Delco, in the 2021-22 legislative season, all members of the Democratic team (9 house seats) batted 0, even those with 8 or more years in the PA house. The Republican team (2 house seats) were both hitters. The newest member, a first-term rookie, batted 0.428. (3)
Beyond no-choice primaries and no representation in Harrisburg, our area’s party stalwarts are not getting much of a say in their State House candidate’s campaigns either. If our politics are now transactional, “what can I get for my campaign donation?” ordinary citizens can get nothing. Delco State House campaigns can now run near or over a million dollars with 90% or more of the contributions coming from outside the districts. (5)
With our state’s intense party partisanship, many of our area’s party voters loyally vote their ticket, but they haven’t been getting a choice at the polls, a voice in campaigns, or a voice in Harrisburg.
So who’s wasting their vote?
We need to stop throwing our votes away and start supporting partisanship-busting reforms in Pennsylvania like Independent candidates, ranked-choice voting, removal of uncontested races from primary election ballots, and amending the rules to make it impossible for individual, subcommittee chairs to block popular legislation from a vote on the PA house floor.
The data shows that many of us in Pennsylvania don’t have a voice in our state politics, but we could.
1: https://www.electionreturns.pa.gov/ (select year of election, and Representative in the General Assembly or also select county. Start counting races where more than one candidate appears and compare to the total number of races if both parties participated.).
2: From election results archived at the Delaware County Bureau of Elections, Delaware County, Media.
3: Data from the Pennsylvania Legislative session 2021-22 from https://legiscan.com/PA under license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Or, look up sponsored legislation for each member at https://www.house.state.pa.us/ and see whether their bills as a primary sponsor had any floor votes.
5: Money plus in-kind contributions for the 168th district in 2020 and the 165th district in 2018 and addresses of the donors https://www.campaignfinanceonline.pa.gov/pages/CFReportSearch.aspx