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scheduling conflict

Pa. election chief urges state to act soon to move 2024 primary, which conflicts with Passover

The state’s lawmakers and governor all agree — for different reasons — that next year’s April 23 primary should be moved earlier

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

Election officials in the battleground state of Pennsylvania urged state legislators this week to move the date of the state’s 2024 presidential primary, which falls on the first day of Passover, “as soon as possible.” They fear that a delay in settling on a new date would make it difficult for local officials to ensure the elections run without a hitch.

Top legislators in both parties and Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro have thrown their support behind a measure that would move the state’s primary up from April 23. But the legislature has no plans to take up the bill until at least Sept. 18, when the General Assembly returns to session. 

“I am deeply concerned we will not give county election officials the time they need to adjust

thousands of polling locations to accommodate a new, earlier primary date,” Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt wrote in a letter to the top Democrats and Republicans in the state Senate and the State House on Wednesday. “With each passing day, it grows more challenging for county election officials to identify and reserve alternative polling locations where conflicts are identified for the current locations.” Schmidt wrote that he supports moving the primary forward, a position also taken by Shapiro.

“The governor supports moving the 2024 primary to ensure that observers of Passover have every opportunity to exercise their right to vote and looks forward to working with the General Assembly to change the date,” Manuel Bonder, Shapiro’s press secretary, said in a statement. 

Last week, Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, a Western Pennsylvania Republican, said in a radio interview that she is “confident” the state will pass the legislation, which proposes moving the primary five weeks earlier. Her rationale for moving the primary, however, is not related to Passover. She wants to give the state more influence in the presidential nominating contest. 

“A candidate cannot win the presidency without Pennsylvania. It always comes down to us in the end, yet we never have any say in the beginning,” she said. Ward’s spokesperson declined to comment further. 

State Rep. Jared Solomon, a Jewish Democrat who represents Philadelphia, sponsored the legislation that will change the primary date. He said he doesn’t want to “have to choose between celebrating Passover and going to the polls,” he told Jewish Insider. “We don’t want to have any tension between our religious beliefs and our civic duty.”

Equally pertinent for Solomon is a desire — similar to Ward’s — to give Pennsylvania more of a say in the presidential race. 

“I just have always wanted to bump it up so that we’re in the mix with other states, where more attention comes to Pennsylvania,” he said. The April date is already weeks earlier than the state’s June 2, 2020, primary in the last election cycle. All of Pennsylvania’s primary elections, ranging from local office to Congress to the presidency, fall on the same day, so candidates will also need to act faster to get their names on the ballot. 

Maryland’s presidential primary was also scheduled for April 23, until the state legislature voted this year to change the date. In Maryland’s case, the new date of May 14 falls even later.   

Jewish community activists in Pennsylvania have also urged the legislature to act. 

“Even though voting by mail is much more common practice now, holding the primary election on a religious holiday is not inclusive and in fact is a barrier to those who want to vote in person,” said Robin Schatz, director of government affairs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. 

Seth Bluestein, a Philadelphia city commissioner, said the date change would be “manageable” from the perspective of election administrators so long as it happens by early fall.

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