The Lead

State Senate votes to move up Pa.’s 2024 primary more than a month to March 19

By: - September 20, 2023 1:18 pm
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 21 bills that restrict voting or interfere with election administration were either signed into law, or await the governor’s signature, as of May 29 (Photo via the New Jersey Monitor).

(Photo via the New Jersey Monitor).

Pennsylvania’s 2024 presidential primary would be held March 19, more than a month earlier than it is currently scheduled, under legislation passed by the state Senate on Wednesday.

The Senate’s 47-2 vote sends Senate Bill 224 to the state House for consideration, where the chairperson of the chamber’s State Government Committee said he would consider the legislation, along with a competing proposal to hold the primary April 2. 

An earlier primary would give Pennsylvania voters a bigger say in presidential nominations, which have typically been all but settled by the time Pennsylvania’s primary election in late April is held. 

“This bill will change that by positioning Pennsylvania to have more influence in selecting candidates earlier for the general election by moving up the 2024 primary election date to March 19,” Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, said. “The House of Representatives will need to act quickly on this bill when they return to session in order to allow enough time for the change to be put in place.”

Rescheduling the 2024 primary would also eliminate a conflict between the election and the Jewish Passover holiday, when many observers are required to refrain from writing, driving, or using electricity and could be disenfranchised.

The legislation has generated concern among county election officials who say an earlier primary would place a strain on elections boards and volunteers who are already stretched thin. 

“They’re very serious,” state Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, D-Montgomery, said, adding that she is hopeful lawmakers will act to ensure the counties have the resources and staff for the primary to move forward properly. “But ultimately, we can’t keep the primary date where it is.”

The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, said the bill also changes the three-week period in which candidates must collect nominating signatures to avoid a conflict with the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Without the change, candidates would have been required to start collecting signatures on Dec. 19 to meet the deadline to submit them 11 weeks before the primary election. The bill was amended to set the deadline eight weeks before the election and allows candidates to start gathering signatures on Jan. 2.

Argall said he understands the concern of election officials and noted that the counties would have more time to prepare for the primary than in past years.

“But I do understand the necessity to get this bill to the governor’s desk very soon,” Argall said. “If we’re having this debate in November or December or January, there is no doubt that the Department of State and the county election officials would not be able to prepare for this important election.”

Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, said he supported the bill with registrations but advocated for the April 2 primary date to allow the full 11 weeks for election officials to prepare.

House State Government Committee Chairperson Scott Conklin, D-Centre, said last month that the Senate bill and a bill sponsored by state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, would be considered at a meeting Oct. 3.

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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.