House approves bill to move Pa.’s 2024 primary but rejects voter ID expansion, other election reforms

This story originally appeared on Spotlight PA.

The Pennsylvania House has advanced a bill to change the date of the 2024 presidential primary while rejecting an effort to implement expanded voter ID requirements, mail ballot rule changes, and a slew of other provisions.

In a contentious session Thursday that included singing, yelling, and arguments over the events of Jan. 6, the state House passed a bill along party lines that would move the date of the 2024 presidential primary from April 23 to April 2.

A second bill to move the primary to March 19 — previously approved by the state Senate — failed with a wide margin of bipartisan opposition. By the time of the vote, that bill had morphed into an omnibus election reform package.

“This bill should have been in the Senate by June,” state Rep. Seth Grove (R., York) said of the legislation to move the primary to April 2, capturing the sentiment of many Republican legislators and county leaders.

In a statement, state Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R., Indiana) did not directly address whether leadership will bring the April 2 measure up for a vote. The chamber had opted for March 19 as the date for the primary when it passed a bill last month.

“We have tried to advance a new primary date out of respect for the Jewish holiday,” the statement said. “Those efforts have clearly not been successful and the window to make any change is rapidly closing given the House actions this week.”

The current date of the 2024 primary, April 23, conflicts with the Jewish holiday of Passover and places the swing state late in the primary cycle. While the effort to move the primary has received bipartisan, bicameral, and gubernatorial support, counties, school boards, and a legislative advisory board are concerned it will strain local election offices, especially if lawmakers drag the decision out.

There are only 180 days until April 2, 2024.

“The hour is late, and counties have already made a lot of decisions,” state Rep. Russ Diamond (R., Lebanon) said Thursday.

The Election Law Advisory Board — a joint commission of the Legislature whose members include representatives from both chambers, counties, and the Department of State — agreed.

In a letter obtained by Votebeat and Spotlight PA last week, the board said it had “reservations” about the effort to move the primary and that any such change should be made “at least a year before the election.”

County officials are primarily concerned that changing the date on such short notice will make it difficult to secure polling places and workers to staff those locations.

“The big thing we heard about today is absolutely, probably the biggest factor … the polling locations and the poll workers,” Snyder County Commissioner Joe Kantz, who sits on the board, told Votebeat and Spotlight PA after a meeting of the board last month.

Many usual poll workers may have made other plans, given the short notice. Polling locations are also typically notified of election dates a year or more in advance.

More time is also needed to prepare now than in the past due to Pennsylvania’s still relatively new no-excuse mail balloting law.

“Our calendars have gotten a lot bigger,” Kantz said. “So if we move the primary ahead, that’s going to condense that that much more. … The Legislature is going to do what they want to do, and so whatever they do, as counties always do, we’ll find a way to make it work, but it’s going to be painful.”

The three other states that had primaries scheduled for April 23 have already moved their dates.

Schools would be strongly affected in the event of a primary date change. School boards are required to allow their facilities to be used as polling places if requested. Already, they’ve set their calendars for an April 23 primary.

“If the primary election day is changed at this point, when school calendars have already been established, the change could close schools and interrupt student learning,” said Mackenzie Christiana, senior manager of communications of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

State law also ties school boards’ timelines to set their budgets to the primary election. An earlier primary, Christiana said, requires districts to “build their preliminary budgets just months into their new fiscal year.”

  • October 6, 2023
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