by:  Chris Allen, ICC admin.

Why make a big deal about the spring 2018 primary election? Nobody pays any attention to primaries, right? While it’s true that not enough people understand the role of primary elections very well, they play a foundational role in the election process.

What is a primary election?  Primary elections are the means by which the major parties, Democratic and Republican, choose their candidates for the fall general elections. That’s why only voters who are  registered Democrats or Republicans are eligible to vote in Pennsylvania primaries. The winning candidates are joined on the General Election ballot by Third Party and Independent candidates able to get their petitions signed during the summer. The courts recently ruled that for all offices other than Congressional seats, the requirement would be 5,000 signatures in lieu of 2% of the vote total of the top vote-getter in the last general election. Thus, there will likely be more candidates in the fall.

Who/What offices will we be voting for?  This year, the offices we’ll be voting for include US Senator – Class II, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, all United States Congressional Representatives, State Senators in the General Assembly (even numbered districts only), and the Representatives in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

The Primary will also include the election of precinct level Committee People to both the Democratic and Republican parties.  Democrats elect their committee people every four years and the Republicans do so every two years. These committee people will vote in June for their County chair, vice-chair, secretary and treasurer.  In addition, voters will choose their county’s representatives to the State Committees of each party.

Elections for County offices are normally held in odd-numbered years, so none of these will be on the ballot this election cycle.

As of now, no statewide measures have been certified to appear on the primary election ballots. If there were any, third-party and independent registered voters would be eligible to vote on those measures only.

Primary election day is three months away. Why pay attention to it now?  Now is the time for candidates to garner petition signatures (see for more information), raise funds, secure endorsements, engage campaign workers, develop position platforms, and get the word out. That’s a big agenda for a relatively short time period. Each candidate needs a volunteer work force to get all this accomplished. A candidate cannot get on the ballot without having enough legitimate signatures.

How do I find out who’s running and what they stand for?  In March, ICC will be releasing our searchable Candidate Database. Every candidate who gets enough petitions signed will be invited to answer questions so that voters can see where they stand on various issues, why they are running, and what makes them unique. All candidates have either websites, Facebook pages, or both. The party affiliated website may have more information on their respective candidate.

Who can vote in the primary election?  To vote in the primary, you must be registered to vote as a Democrat or a Republican. This year, the deadline for registration is April 16, 2018. You can go to Chester County Voter Services to find out how to register and the requirements to do so.  You can also check your registration, download an application to mail in, register online or find out general voting/election process information. There will be many GOTV (Get Out The Vote) events, so watch out for those.  No matter which process you take to register you should return to Check your registration status  to confirm your registration or detect any possible problems.  You can register in person at the Voter Services Department office at 601 Westtown Road in West Chester or fill out an absentee ballot.  The preferred method to register to vote is a mailed in paper ballot which goes directly to the Chester County office.  The online version goes through Harrisburg and should be definitely confirmed by checking your registration status.  See the downloadable ICC Voter Guide Chester County for more information on voting and absentee ballots that you might need if you will not be able to vote in person, or if you need an absentee ballot for your child at college, or if you are in the military, or if you live outside of the USA.

So if you care about who gets a shot at state and federal elected offices, you should care about the primary. Get involved. Find a candidate you like and volunteer to help his or her campaign by making calls or canvassing for them, educate yourself about the candidates and issues, participate in a voter registration drive GOTV, and make sure your registration is up to date and ask your neighbors if they are voting and if their registration is up to date. For a lot more detail, check out the downloadable ICC Voter Guide for Chester County at

Happy Voting!