Is Pennsylvania Going to Move its Primary Date to Prevent a Passover Conflict?

Jared Solomon (Courtesy of Pennsylvania Democratic Caucus Communications)

Rep. Jared Solomon has a broad appeal for his bill to move the 2024 Pennsylvania primary up from April 23.

Solomon, who represents the Philadelphia County-based 202nd district in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, would like to give his state more influence in the U.S. presidential race.

An April 23 primary would make Pennsylvania one of the last states to go to the polls. In past presidential races, a candidate has often already sewed up a party nomination.

Moving up the primary would have several benefits. The representative explained: “You have more time for Pennsylvanians to learn about key issues. You have candidates who will be here longer. What are the unique problems and what are the unique solutions candidates are offering for our 67 counties?”

This is the first argument Solomon makes for his bill. But it’s not the only one. The Jewish representative also wants to move the primary because April 23 is the second day of Passover.

Halachically-observant Jews are not allowed to go vote that day. While they could still vote by mail, their options for participating in the most important act of democracy would be limited.

“No civic duty should ever impede upon any individual in Pennsylvania from practicing their faith,” Solomon said. “Voters are different. The voting experience for people is different.”

The representative hopes to bring his bill for passage when the General Assembly reconvenes in September. He said there are “good feelings coming out of the House and Senate.”

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Solomon said.

“We hope to move soon after we get back,” he added.

Pennsylvania’s Jewish governor, Josh Shapiro, also wants to see the primary moved up. Shapiro’s press secretary, Manuel Bonder, released the following statement:
“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.”

The secretary of the commonwealth, Al Schmidt, oversees the election process. Like Shapiro, Schmidt supports the effort to move the primary. But in a July 26 letter to the Republican president pro tempore of the Senate, Kim Ward, he urged the legislature to move when it returns in September.

“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,” Schmidt wrote.

County election boards try to reserve “polling locations and poll workers a year or more in advance of an election to avoid conflicts with other events and to have ample time to inform voters of where they will cast their votes,” the secretary continued.

The commonwealth has more than 9,000 polling locations, according to Schmidt. For context in his letter, the secretary mentioned that Montgomery County has more than 300. School districts “that close on election days” will also have to adjust their calendars, Schmidt said.

Solomon’s bill would move the date up to the middle of March.

“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 concluded.

Ben Waxman, a House member who represents Pennsylvania’s 182nd district in Center City, is a cosponsor of the bill. The Jewish Democrat believes that support is growing.

“I would guess that it’s something we’ll address when we return in the fall,” Waxman said. “When you have multiple reasons to do something, it makes it easier.”

He also thinks that if the General Assembly moves early enough, county administrators will have the time they need.

“We have the Department of State and local election officials who know how to run elections,” Waxman said.

Robin Schatz, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s director of government affairs, said Schmidt’s push will motivate the legislators.

“It’s really going to be kind of a rush,” Schatz added. “But the will is there on both the Republican and Democratic side.”

Schatz thinks the general appeal of giving Pennsylvania more clout and the extra motivation of avoiding a conflict with Passover will be enough. She acknowledged that the conflict would not stop Jews from having access to the vote. But she did say that “the optics are not good to have a primary on a day when many religious Jews prefer to go to the polls.”

“It adds impetus,” Schatz concluded.

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