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Pennsylvania’s Senate votes to move presidential primary 5 weeks earlier

An early election ballot completion area is prepared at a collection location inside the North Park Ice Skating Rink Lodge area, Oct. 9, 2020, in McCandless, Pa. Pennsylvania's state Senate approved a bill Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, to move up the state's 2024 primary election by five weeks to March 19, aiming to avoid a conflict with the Jewish holiday of Passover and give voters more of a say in deciding presidential nominees. Associated Press File Photo

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania's state Senate approved a bill Wednesday to move up the state's 2024 primary election by five weeks to March 19, aiming to avoid a conflict with the Jewish holiday of Passover and give voters more of a say in deciding presidential nominees.

The bill passed, 45-2, although it still requires passage in the state House of Representatives.

From Butler County, state Sen. Scott Hutchinson, R-21st, voted against the bill. State Sen. Elder Vogel, R-47th, voted in favor.

Under the bill, the primary election would move from April 23 to March 19, the same primary date as in Ohio, Florida, Illinois, Kansas and Arizona. Still, that date comes after primaries in other big delegate states, including California, Texas, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts and Tennessee.

Under that scenario, Pennsylvania would leap over New York, Delaware, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

Democrats have warned that the change would compress the primary calendar, giving courts and counties less time to handle election-related duties.

Pennsylvania is a premier battleground in presidential elections, but state law sets its primary date relatively late in the presidential primary calendar and it hasn’t hosted a competitive presidential primary since 2008.

“Here we are, the fifth-most registered voters in the country not having input into who the candidates are for our parties. This bill gives Pennsylvania citizens a voice at the beginning of the process, because it always comes down to us at the end of the process,” Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, told colleagues during floor remarks.

She said she hopes the House returns “soon” to take up the bill. The chamber was scheduled to return to session Tuesday, although House Democratic leaders have not said whether they will support it.

For now, President Joe Biden faces a couple of Democratic challengers but is expected to secure his party’s nomination, while former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have dominated the early Republican race in a field that is about a dozen deep.

Many states want to hold presidential primaries earlier, to give residents more influence on the trajectory of presidential campaigns. But Pennsylvania lawmakers have long resisted a change because it would push the beginning of the state’s customary 13-week primary season into the winter holidays.

The bill passed Wednesday would compress the primary season to 11 weeks, making Jan. 2 the first day that candidates could start circulating petitions.

This year, more lawmakers are motivated to support a change because April 23 is the first day of Passover, a Jewish holiday when observant Jews typically avoid the same activities they avoid on the Sabbath, such as driving, working or using electricity.

Gov. Josh Shapiro, who is Jewish, has said he supports changing the date.

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