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Primary problems

2024 presidential primaries conflict with Passover in Pennsylvania and Maryland

A Jewish legislator in Maryland is leading an effort to change the date of Maryland’s primary. No such effort is underway yet in Pennsylvania

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Voting booths stand ready for use in a U.S. election.

Presidential primaries are voters’ first real chance to cast ballots and influence their party’s nominee. But Jewish voters in four states were recently alarmed to discover that, in 2024, the date for presidential primaries conflicts with a major Jewish holiday.

Pennsylvania, Maryland, Rhode Island and Delaware plan to hold their presidential primary elections on April 23, 2024. It’s the first day of Passover, making voting impossible for observant Jews who do not work, drive, use electronics or write in observance of the holiday.

Pennsylvania and Maryland are home to two of the largest Jewish populations in the nation, and Maryland Del. Dalya Attar, the state’s first Orthodox Jewish legislator, introduced legislation to change the date of next year’s primary, which is set by Maryland law.

“Election Day is when most people go out to vote,” Attar, a Baltimore City Democrat, told Jewish Insider on Monday. “Having the primary is great and having those early voting dates are very helpful. But the reality is, many people go out and vote on Election Day.”

The Maryland House speaker and Senate president both came out in favor of changing the date for next year’s primary. A spokesperson for Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, told JI on Tuesday that he “supports moving next year’s primary Election Day so it does not fall on Passover.” 

In Pennsylvania, no such effort is yet underway. 

“I was not aware of it,” said Robin Schatz, director of government affairs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. She pledged to look into the issue with Hank Butler, the Harrisburg-based executive director of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, the advocacy arm of the state’s Jewish community. 

“However, because of other options, it may not be viewed as being so critical,” added Schatz, noting that Pennsylvania law allows anyone in the state to request a mail-in ballot. 

There is currently another push in Pennsylvania to change the Democratic presidential primary date for 2024. Democratic legislators introduced a bill to move the Democratic presidential primary next year a month earlier, to March 19, to give Pennsylvania a bigger say in the party’s nominating contest. If it were implemented, that bill would not affect the Republican primary — still set for April 23 — or other statewide primaries set to take place on that date.

A spokesperson for Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, declined to comment.

In both Pennsylvania and Maryland, the majority of voters voted in-person on Election Day in the 2020 presidential election. That was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many states passed laws allowing more mail-in or early voting in an effort to lessen crowding at polling places. 

JI did not receive responses to inquiries sent to Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee and Delaware Gov. John Carney, both Democrats, asking whether they were aware of the issue and if they planned to pursue any changes to next year’s primary date.

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