Lawmakers Advance Bill to Change PA’s Presidential Primary Election

Shown is the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in session at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Thursday, June 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

By Sean Kitchen

October 3, 2023

Lawmakers in Harrisburg want to change the date for the 2024 presidential primary election. House Democrats advanced two bills out of committee and sent them to the House Floor.

Two competing bills to change Pennsylvania’s primary date were advanced by the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee on Tuesday.

The committee passed House Bill 1634, which was introduced by House Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) and Jared Solomon (D-Philadelphia) and would move the primary date to the first Tuesday in April, by a 13 to 12 vote.  

“I think at its core people recognize that Pennsylvania is frankly the center of the political universe. If you want to win a national election in the [US], you have to win the state of Pennsylvania,” Kenyatta said while introducing House Bill 1634. 

“And right now, not only our presidential primary date conflicts with a major religious holiday, but additionally, disadvantages the voters of the commonwealth in terms of being able to weigh in – in a substantive way – throughout the presidential primary process.” 

If Pennsylvania moves its primary to April 2, 2024, it would host a primary election on the same day as Arkansas, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. 

A similar bill, Senate Bill 224, which was introduced by State Sen. Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill) passed the Senate by a 45 to 2 margin, moving the primary date to March 19, 2024. The bill was initially defeated in committee by a 7 to 18 vote, but committee members reconvened later in the day and passed it 

Besides the primary dates, the two bills had some main differences. SB 224 changed the primary date for the 2024 election, and not in perpetuity like its counterpart in the House. 

The second difference between the two bills is the amount of time between the deadline for the petition-gathering process and the primary date. The time frame in the Senate version is two weeks shorter and would put more of a strain on the counties to conduct the primary election.

A heated discussion about religion occurred during Tuesday’s committee meeting when State Rep. Brad Roae (R-Crawford), the minority chair of the committee, opposed moving the primary date because it coincided with Passover. 

“There had been talk about the conflict with the Jewish holiday,” said Road, who then mentioned how a recent special election fell on a Hindu holiday. 

“I was just wondering. The whole idea of ‘you can’t have an election on a holiday’ with all the different religions we all have…There’s so many different religions probably almost every day is a holiday for somebody.” 

State Rep. Ben Waxman (D-Philadelphia), who is a member of the Jewish community, responded to Roae’s remarks. 

“I want to reiterate what other speakers have said. Passover is one of the holiest days in the jewish calendar. It is an incredibly important holiday, and it shouldn’t be thrown aside as though it doesn’t matter to our community,” Waxman said.

Following the committee meeting, State Rep. Scott Conklin (D-Centre), who is the chair of the committee, reiterated that Democrats would like to change the primary election for all elections going forward. 

“Our goal was to change it for all primary elections. That would make it so much easier for those individuals in the county that do that election. Then they know exactly what’s going to happen and that’s something that, my whole voting career, we’ve always asked for is to be relevant,” Conklin said. 

“We don’t want to be Iowa, but we would really like to be in that mix of being a difference maker because when you’re a difference maker you get to see the presidential candidates.”

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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