The Lead

Pa. primary scheduling saga lands on April 16 proposal

By: - October 17, 2023 6:25 pm

The Pennsylvania Seal in the state House majority caucus room. (Capital-Star photo by Peter Hall)

State House lawmakers on Tuesday proposed moving Pennsylvania’s presidential primary a week earlier to April 16 in the latest effort to find a date for the election that doesn’t conflict with a religious holiday. 

The General Assembly has been working since last month to agree on a date for the primary that would both give Pennsylvania more of a say in choosing presidential nominees and avoid disenfranchising or inconveniencing voters with election dates and deadlines that conflict with holidays.

County election officials and Secretary of State Al Schmidt, meanwhile, cautioned that any changes would need to be finalized well in advance to give election workers time to prepare.

Selecting a date has been anything but simple and prompted a GOP House leader on Tuesday to call for a primary election later than the current April 23 date.

“It is too late to move the primary. There is an alternative, keeping it or pushing it back,” state Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) said, noting that pushing it back would avoid religious conflicts and a newly identified issue with school district budget deadlines, which are linked to the primary election date. 

The state Senate last month passed legislation to hold the primary on March 19, a date that moves the election away from Passover, when many who observe don’t drive, write or use electronic devices. 

The House responded on Oct. 5 by passing its own bill to set April 2 as primary election day, a date that some rejected because it would interfere with Easter preparations in churches used as polling places.

The same day, a version of the Senate’s March 19 proposal that had been amended with changes to the state’s vote-by-mail law and a voter ID requirement failed with a 26-177 vote.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-Indiana) gave Democratic House leaders an ultimatum: Remove the amendments from the March 19 bill and send it to Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk or accept that the two chambers are at an irreconcilable stalemate.

“In the Senate, we now consider this matter to be closed,” Pittman’s letter reads.

Instead, House lawmakers passed a “gut and replace” amendment to the Senate bill that removed the vote-by-mail and voter ID provisions and would set the primary on April 16. 

The amendment came after a proposal to hold the primary April 9 was rejected in caucus after lawmakers realized that it conflicted with Eid al-Fitr, the end of the month-long dusk to dawn fasting period during Ramadan, a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery) said.

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Peter Hall
Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.