‘Confusion and delay’ bring unsuccessful end in bid to move Pennsylvania’s presidential primary

House Democrats proposed April 16, but Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman said it’s too late to change

By: - October 18, 2023 7:03 pm
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(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Pennsylvania’s 2024 presidential primary would be held April 16 under legislation passed by the state House on Wednesday.

But the effort to move the election from April 23 to avoid a conflict with Passover appeared likely to end unsuccessfully.

Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-Indiana) quickly released a statement Wednesday evening saying that the House’s effort was too little, too late and repeating his earlier admonition that the matter was closed in the upper chamber.

“Confusion and delay. These are the only words I can find in describing the humble House Democrat majority’s failure to adequately address this issue,” Pittman’s statement read.

The Senate last month passed a bill to move the primary to March 19, more than a month earlier than currently scheduled. In addition to not interrupting Passover or Easter, the new date would give voters more say in choosing presidential nominees, which are often well settled by the time Pennsylvania holds its presidential election primaries, supporters said.

Nearly a month and six versions of the bill later, the House blocked a proposed amendment by House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) that would have moved the primary to May 7, before voting 104-99 in favor of April 16.

Lawmakers noted that the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania had warned that time was of the essence in picking the date because of the lead time necessary to prepare. 

Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon) noted that religious holidays have been a valid reason to vote by absentee ballot for decades. 

And Rep. Arvind Venkat (D-Allegheny), noting that the Democratic Caucus had been preparing to propose April 9 until someone realized it was Eid al-Fitr, the end of the month-long dusk to dawn fast of Ramadan, said April 16 was also a minority religious holiday — Rama Navami, a Hindu celebration.

“I do not expect as a member of the Hindu faith that our state government will move elections based on a conflict with a religious festival. I agree with my colleague that there are other options for voting,” Venkat said.

Venkat also said moving the presidential primary on a year-by-year basis could be subject to the whim of the party in control of the legislature depending on whether it would be beneficial.

“The only pathway forward if we are going to move our primary is to change the election code on a permanent basis,” Venkat said.

Republican leaders said after the vote that the effort’s failure was the result of political gamesmanship by the Democratic majority. 

The Senate bill for a March 19 primary failed with a 26-177 vote on Oct. 5 after it was amended to include a provision to automatically enroll voters to automatically receive mail ballots after initially requesting one, and a provision to expand voter ID.

“When you play political games, you get poor results,” Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) said. “To me, it was very childish, what the House Democrats did with that. And lo and behold, now, nothing is gonna happen, because they wanted to mess around with the Senate bill and do numerous iterations for political fodder.”

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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.