HARRISBURG — A bill that could move the Pennsylvania primary to March in presidential election years starting in 2024 passed the state Senate unanimously Wednesday,
The proposal appears headed for a struggle in the state House, where state government committee chairman state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming County, said a lot of his fellow lawmakers see little point in the move.
Senate Bill 779 would move up the date of the primary in presidential election years from the fourth Tuesday in April to the third Tuesday in March. This would allow voters in Pennsylvania to cast their ballots the same day as other influential states, including Arizona, Florida and Illinois.
Moving the Pennsylvania primary to March
Should Pennsylvania move up the state primary from April to March in presidential election years?
A part of the resistance comes from the fact that moving the primary earlier in the year would shift the entire campaign calendar, Everett said.
This year, the spring primary is April 28. Tuesday was the first day candidates could begin circulating nominating petitions, according to the Department of State election calendar.
If the primary is moved up five weeks, that would force candidates to begin campaigning over the holidays.
Members of the state Senate, which passed Senate Bill 779 unanimously, run for re-election every four years. House members serve two-year terms.
The bill would not take effect until the 2024 election, and election dates would not change in non-presidential years, said state Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia County, the author of Senate Bill 779.
The bill would not break any rules set forth by the Democratic National Committee or the Republican National Committee.
Only Kansas, Indiana, Nebraska, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota hold primaries after Pennsylvania, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“For many years, the selection of the Presidential nominee has already been determined by the time Pennsylvania voters have gotten the opportunity to cast their ballot,” Gordner said. “My bill will allow our citizens to play a much larger role in determining the outcome of these critical elections.”
The nation’s primary process begins on Monday when voters in Iowa hold their caucuses. By the end of March, events covering well over 50 percent of each party’s convention delegates will have taken place, according to 270towin, a website tracking the primary process.
Everett said it’s not entirely clear that moving the primary earlier in the calendar will give voters in Pennsylvania greater influence.
Trump didn’t officially seal up the Republican Party’s nomination until he won the May 3 primary in Indiana, a week after he won the Pennsylvania primary.
This year, with “so many Ds in the race,” it’s far from clear the Democrats will have decided on a nominee before the Pennsylvania primary, Everett said.
Wanda Murren, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees elections, said the agency has not taken a position on whether it would be better to hold the presidential primary in March.
"We will carry out the requirements of any change that becomes law," she said.
John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.