By Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon)
Pennsylvania’s 2024 primary election is just around the corner, currently scheduled to occur on April 23. However, there are forces in the General Assembly seeking to reschedule it for an earlier date. These actions, at this point in time, are shortsighted and could cause even more damage to public trust in our electoral system.
Gov. Josh Shapiro has also expressed support for moving the date, citing its coincidence with the beginning of Passover and conflicts it may present for observant members of the Jewish faith.
It should be noted that Article VII
Section 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution already specifically allows for absentee voting “because of the observance of a religious holiday.” Beyond this, every voter in the state can now legally vote by mail for any reason they choose, and Shapiro and others have declared that process to be safe and secure.
Another justification publicly offered for moving up the 2024 primary date is to give Pennsylvania’s voters more influence on which candidates eventually become the presidential nominee for each major political party. While this notion may have philosophical merit, the practical ramifications of advancing the date for 2024 provide the arguments against doing so.
First, Pennsylvania’s presidential primary election results are not binding. The Democratic and Republican national conventions meet to nominate presidential candidates long after our primary and are free to nominate whomever they choose, regardless of the outcome of any individual state’s primary process.
Second, there is little evidence the collective outcome of primary contests for either party across the 50 states is in question. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, it is most likely the 2024 presidential contest will pit the current president against his predecessor. Moving Pennsylvania’s primary will not impact that equation.
More important than these realities, however, is the effect moving up Pennsylvania’s primary election date will have on our county boards of elections, the people who actually administer Pennsylvania’s elections. Compressing their timetables will only provide more opportunities for mistakes and human error. Such occurrences will lead to further erosion of faith in our electoral process, which Pennsylvania simply cannot afford.
Election administrators don’t just show up on Election Day to conduct an election. Plans and preparations are made months and years in advance. For an April 23 primary, polling locations are already contracted and secured, poll workers are scheduled, ballot printing contracts are signed, and voting machine logic and accuracy testing is calendared. Dozens of other pre-election preparations are already underway in Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
Compressing the pre-election schedule at this late date will also add pressure and stress on administrators who oversee these tasks. Our state has witnessed a breathtaking exodus of experienced election directors over the last few years, and additional stress and pressure will only encourage more of them to leave.
The dangers of moving up the primary at this late date are clear and present, while the benefits - if any - are minimal at best. The General Assembly should reject this midnight effort to move Pennsylvania’s primary date, and instead focus on making improvements to our electoral system that will restore confidence and enhance voting security.
Let’s save the 2024 primary date.
Russ Diamond represents the 102nd District (Lebanon County) in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and is a member of the Joint State Government Commission’s Election Law Advisory Board.