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State Senate approves advancing 2024 presidential primary one month sooner

  • By Jaxon White/LNP | LancasterOnline
The state Capitol building in Harrisburg on March 24, 2023.

 Jeremy Long / WITF

The state Capitol building in Harrisburg on March 24, 2023.

This story is published in partnership with our sister newsroom LNP | LancasterOnline.

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The Pennsylvania Senate passed a bill with bipartisan support Wednesday that would move the 2024 presidential primary up to March 19 — more than a month sooner than its current date of April 23, which conflicts with the Jewish holiday of Passover.

The Senate bill still needs the support of the Democrat-controlled House, which has two Democratic members pushing for an April 2 primary date that they say would avoid setting the candidate petition period during Christmas.

Candidates are required by state law to gather petition signatures — sometimes thousands — from constituents to get on the ballot. The number of signatures varies by office.

State Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill), who is the primary sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday the chamber was deliberate in its attempt to avoid conflicts between the petition period and religious holidays.

The Senate proposal would avoid Christmas by shortening the petition period by two weeks. It would start on Jan. 2, with signed petitions due Jan. 23. Senate Republicans have said the April 2 date would mean county election officials would need to work over the Easter holiday weekend.

The House returns to session next week, but a Democratic spokeswoman said the caucus is reviewing the bill.

Tom O’Brien, chair of the Lancaster County Democratic Committee, said it’s “very important that Pennsylvania has an earlier primary so that we are involved in making the decision for the presidency before the race is wrapped up.”

O’Brien said he isn’t worried about the shortened petitioning window, only that the start day in January could lead to candidates door-knocking in cold, snowy weather.

Although he’d prefer the April 2 date, O’Brien said he and his committee will “do whatever we need to do. We’ll be ready.”

Kirk Radanovic, chair of the Republican Committee of Lancaster County, said he wouldn’t comment on the bill until the House makes its decision.

How it would affect the county

Christa Miller, Lancaster County’s election director, said March 19 is the best alternative because about half of the county polling locations are churches, and April 2 is only two days after Easter. That would force churches to accept election-related deliveries on Good Friday.

Miller said she has contacted all 240 of the county’s polling locations to check their availability on the two potential dates.

No matter when the primary is moved to, “everyone just wants a decision made,” she said.

County commissioners said earlier this week that the earlier primary dates would create new logistical headaches for election officials already tasked with managing mail-in ballots, voter registration and the 240 polling locations in the county twice a year.

The contracted timeframe could potentially mean some overlap for election administrators, Commissioner Ray D’Agostino said, and they might have to start running the spring primary before finishing the fall general election.

Pennsylvania’s election laws are demanding, establishing competing deadlines for registering to vote, applying for a mail-in ballot and setting up polling stations in quick succession in the weeks leading up to an election.

Moving up the primary would only exacerbate the time crunch, commissioners said.

LNP | LancasterOnline staff writer Tom Lisi contributed to this report.

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