More than 43,000 registered voters in York County might not have a say in this year's election, as many races could end in the primary -- before those voters are allowed to cast ballots.
Such was the scenario two years ago, when York County elected a new district attorney, two new judges and six new district judges.
With the exception of one district judge seat, all races were settled in the primary. By the time people who weren't registered Democrat or Republican got a chance to vote, there were no choices left.
As a similar scenario is building for this year's election, a local lawmaker has written legislation to open the primary to more voters and change a system the League of Women Voters says disenfranchises thousands of voters.
But politicos say the legislation has little chance of succeeding, with one analyst saying that's because major
party politicians are protecting their turf.
The findings: The York Dispatch analyzed results of the last three municipal elections: 2007, 2009 and 2011.
During that time, there were 153 contested elections for countywide seats, district judges, school boards, township supervisors, borough councils and mayoral seats. Sixty-five of them, 42 percent, were decided in the primary elections.
That means about 18 percent of the county's registered voters had no say in the outcome of those 65 races.
As of last week, the county had 238,631 registered major-party voters -- about 136,000 Republicans, about 102,000 Democrats and about 43,350 third-party or minor party voters. Among the latter, 33,700 declined to be affiliated with any political party.
It's likely that many of the highest profile races in the 2013 election will be decided in the primary as well.
Two candidates are running for district attorney. Both are Republicans, meaning one will be eliminated in the May 21 primary.
There are two candidates running for Common Pleas judge and 13 candidates vying in three contested district judge races. Because those candidates are cross-filed -- meaning they run as Republicans and Democrats -- those races will end on May 21 if the same candidate tops both parties' tickets.
Closed primaries: Pennsylvania is one of only 13 states with completely closed primary elections.
State Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-York/Dauphin counties, said he wants to open the primary to people who are registered independent because numerous constituents requested the change when he was campaigning.
But the legislation isn't popular, and maintaining the current system seems to be one of few topics on which local Republican and Democratic party leaders can agree.
They say third-party voters are choosing not to be involved with mainstream politics.
"People say the independents are disenfranchised, but that's their choice to not have that say," said York County Democratic Party chairman Bob Kefauver. "If they don't want to identify with either party, then my personal view asks the question, 'Why should they be able to choose who the Republican Party or who the Democratic Party chooses to place on the ballot?'"
Bob Wilson, who chairs the county's Republican Party, said smaller party organizers will have to work harder if they don't want to be excluded.
He said he subscribes to a sort of "supply and demand" philosophy for political parties, with the most popular ideas rising to the top.
"At one point in time, our Republican Party had to start from somewhere and so do you," he said. "We had to start at the bottom rung ourselves. ... Before the Republican Party, it was the Whig Party. There will always be changes if there is enough demand for the change to happen."
Change needed: The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania has taken a position in favor of open primaries, saying the elections are funded by taxpayers and should be open to everyone, said Marita Green, voter service chairwoman of the organization.
"There's an awful lot of people who are not party members, and they get no say in the nominees for who they're going to vote for in the fall," she said. "The number of independents is really rising, and I believe that they feel their views are not taken into account."
Republicans and Democrats in Pennsylvania have good reason to fight against that growing number of third-party voters and preserve the old system, said political analyst G. Terry Madonna, who directs Franklin & Marshall College's Center for Politics & Public Affairs.
"The two parties typically have rigged the system to make it very difficult for independent and third parties to be part of the process," he said. "This is deliberate."
He said politicians want to keep the arguing "in the family," where they're comfortable.
"The fact is that legislation like (Teplitz's) has never gotten very far largely because party leaders want predictability," he said. "What you tend to have with third parties is unpredictability."
A previous attempt: Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said he knows the frustration of trying to change rules for elections. As York City's Democratic state representative, DePasquale in 2008 proposed open primary legislation that went nowhere.
"Ha! It never even got a single hearing, let alone a vote," he said, laughing.
It's "much more likely that I will be dunking on LeBron James before this becomes law," said DePasquale, a self-described "mediocre" high school basketball player.
He said the growing number of third-party voters is evidence people are frustrated with both parties, and the closed primary system forces them to either choose a party with which they disagree or be disenfranchised.
It's unlikely, unless the measure someday makes it to a voter referendum, that it will ever pass, he said.
The proposal: Teplitz has to be more optimistic, having recently proposed new legislation.
His bill would amend the Election Code to allow registered independent voters to choose whether to vote as a Republican or Democrat in the primary and have their affiliations changed for a single day, election day.
Teplitz said the results of the Dispatch analysis point to the need to reform; many registered voters aren't being given a chance to weigh in on many races that are decided before they're allowed to vote.
"The concern here is if you're a registered independent you can only vote in the November election and you have no say in who the major party nominees are," he said. "I don't think it's state government's role to force voters to pick a party or push them into one party or the other."
Teplitz's proposal covers only registered independent voters, who represent just 4,887 of the 43,350 third-party and minor party voters in York County. To register independent, voters must write "independent" after the box marked "other" for political affiliation on the voter registration form.
Teplitz said they were the only group written into the law because people who are members of non-affiliated parties, such as the Green or Constitution parties, can participate in that party's process for nominating someone for November, while independents cannot.
People who are registered as no affiliation (more than 33,000 people in York) might consider switching to independent so they can vote in the primary as well, he said.
"I have no idea if they're going to want to vote in a Democratic primary or a Republican primary, but I know enough of my constituents raised this as an issue that I feel a need to be responsive to it and I feel it's the right thing to do," he said. "You need to put your self-interest aside and vote for the greater good of state government and the public."
Reaction: But some local legislators said they don't think Teplitz's proposal serves the greater good.
"I just think that's a bad policy," said Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township. "If you want to vote in the primary, you can change your registration. Nobody is putting a gun to anyone's head to say you need to be (independent)."
Sen. Mike Waugh, R-Shrewsbury, said third-party voters can choose to not be disenfranchised by changing their affiliation; no legislation is needed for that.
And state Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus, said he sees no reason why a person who's not registered as a Republican or a Democrat would want to vote in their primaries.
"It's to me like saying, 'I'm a Lutheran and I'd like to vote on the affairs of the Catholic church.'"
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.