Pennsylvania Unlikely to Move its Primary Date Off of Passover

The Pennsylvania capitol building in Harrisburg (Thinkstock/zrfphotoç)

As it stands right now, Pennsylvania is unlikely to move its primary date from April 23, the first day of Passover.

The Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives have spent the fall session sending bills back and forth to each other. In September, the Republican Senate sent a bill to the Democratic House that would have changed the date. But the House tried to add amendments for pre-canvassing and eliminating the date requirement for mail ballots.

At one point, the House sent the Senate a bill to just move the date, according to Ben Waxman, a Jewish representative from Center City (District 182). But the Senate tried to add an amendment relating to voter identification.

On Nov. 13, the House again sent a “clean” bill to the Senate, according to Abigail Salisbury, a Jewish state representative from Pittsburgh (District 34). It never reached the floor.

“We had a deal on Monday and then the deal fell apart,” Salisbury said.

Halachically-observant Jews would not be able to vote on the first day of Passover. Though they could still get ballots in by mail, their options for voting would be limited.

The latest bill would have changed the date to April 16, according to Salisbury. The Senate bill in September would have switched it to March 19. Holy week and Easter will take place from March 24-31. The Muslim holiday of Ramadan lasts from March 10-April 9.

“Senate Republicans worked in good faith and in a bipartisan manner with Senate Democrats to move the primary date to March 19, 2024, respecting all major holidays. We regret the House did not do the same,” Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (District 41) said.

Pennsylvania has more than 9,000 polling locations. The secretary of the commonwealth, Al Schmidt, urged Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward in a July 26 letter to move the date when lawmakers returned to Harrisburg in September. The County Commissioners Association believes it’s now too late.

“We look forward to working with the General Assembly and governor to address this issue ahead of 2028,” John Buffon, a spokesperson for the association, told Spotlight PA.

Gov. Josh Shapiro, who is Jewish, supports moving the primary and is “actively making phone calls,” said Hank Butler, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition.

“It’s trying to get the two chambers to work together. That is the challenge,” Butler said.

State Rep. Abigail Salisbury (Courtesy of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives)

Jewish federations across the state continue to organize calls from constituents to legislators, according to Butler. Salisbury said she is going to keep making calls and meeting with her colleagues.

“It’s not over until it’s over,” she said.

But it will be over if the Dec. 11, 12 and 13 session days pass without a bill, according to Salisbury. After the 13th, legislators will return to their districts until after the holidays.

At this point, lawmakers need to focus on a “clean” bill that would only change the date, according to Salisbury. But that’s doable.

“We have months until April at this point. We’re only moving it one week. We’re not moving it to March,” she said.

Changing the date would also allow synagogues and other Jewish institutions to serve as polling places and observant Jewish candidates to campaign on election day.

“It’s a bigger issue, and that’s what we’re trying to convey,” Butler said.

Pennsylvania is the only state with a primary set for April 23. Rhode Island, Maryland and Delaware have all moved their elections that were originally set for that date.

Before the fall session of the General Assembly, Jewish leaders expressed optimism that a bill would pass. Jared Solomon, who represents the 202nd district in Northeast Philadelphia, said, “I’m cautiously optimistic.” Waxman said, “I would guess that it’s something we’ll address when we return in the fall.”

Robin Schatz, the director of government affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, added that, “The will is there on both the Republican and Democratic side.”

But both sides continue to blame each other.

Pittman said, “Frankly, it is greatly troubling the House spent more time playing political games than focusing on the issue at hand.”

Salisbury said of the Senate: “If they wanted to do this, they could do this today.” Waxman added that, “I put this squarely on the Senate and Republican leadership. We know that all Democrats in the Senate will vote for this. We just need three or four to come over and it passes. And they won’t run the bill.”

“It’s just completely outrageous,” he concluded. “There’s no reason the election day has to be on Passover.”

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