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January 11, 2023

Bumping up Pa.'s presidential primary would give voters more influence, lawmakers say

Often, candidates for both parties effectively have been determined by the time Pennsylvania votes. A new proposal aims to change that

Government Elections

Pennsylvania would move its 2024 primary date from April 23 to March 19 under a new proposal that attempts to give voters more influence in presidential races. Above, Kelli Gambill, of Erie, votes in the 2020 primary election.

Pennsylvania's most recent presidential primary was largely unremarkable. After being postponed by two months due to ongoing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, just two Democratic candidates remained on the ballot, one of which had suspended his campaign months before. 

Joe Biden secured the delegates to win the Democratic nomination just three days after the primary and two months after his opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, endorsed him in the presidential race. But Pennsylvania voters will have much greater influence on the 2024 presidential primary if some state lawmakers get their way. 

The 2024 presidential primary would move up one month, from April 23 to March 19, under legislation expected to be introduced by a trio of Philadelphia Democrats – state Sen. Sharif Street and state Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta and Jared Solomon. If passed, Pennsylvania's presidential primary would coincide with those in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio, which generally occur early enough to influence presidential races despite happening after Super Tuesday. 

In years without a presidential election, Pennsylvania's primary elections would remain on the third Tuesday in May. 

"Pennsylvania will be a pivotal battleground state in 2024 and having the primary well after many other states already have theirs makes our commonwealth one of the last states in the nation to weigh in despite being a crucial swing state," Kenyatta said. "With an earlier primary, Pennsylvania voters will represent the 'keystone' needed for each candidate to win their party's nomination in 2024 and beyond." 

For years, lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have argued that moving up Pennsylvania's presidential primary by several weeks would give voters greater say in choosing the candidates that receive their party's nominations. With a later primary, presidential primaries often are effectively decided by the time Pennsylvania voters head to the polls. 

Last year, former state Sen. John Gordner, a Republican who is now serving as counsel to Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, introduced a bill that also would have moved the presidential primary to March. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate before stalling in the House. 

The renewed effort by Pennsylvania lawmakers arrives as the Democratic National Committee is attempting to change the primary calendar for the the 2024 election so that the race better reflects the racial makeup of its voters. 

The proposal, which initially was approved in December, would remove the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary from the top of the primary schedule. Instead, South Carolina would hold the first primary election followed by Nevada and New Hampshire. Georgia and Michigan also would hold elections before Super Tuesday. 

New Jersey unsuccessfully sought to have its presidential primary included among the first few, with state Democratic leaders touting its racial and geographic diversity, in addition to its compact size – which would reduce campaign travel costs. 

But to revamp the primary schedule, Democrats must overcome several hurdles

New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary is protected by state law, meaning that legislation must be signed by its Republican governor before it can be moved behind South Carolina and Nevada. 

In Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, is granted the sole responsibility of setting the state's primary date, and he does not want to hold two separate primaries. 

The Republican National Committee, which voted on its primary calendar last spring, prohibits any state other than Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada from holding their primaries before March 1. Any state that jumps the order sacrifices delegates. 

Last week, the DNC granted New Hampshire and Georgia extra time to fulfill the requirements in the proposal.  

The 2024 presidential campaign is already beginning to take shape. Former President Donald Trump announced his third consecutive bid for the White House in November, and although President Biden has not officially announced a reelection run, CNN reported that he appears to be preparing to declare his candidacy. 

Republican Corey Stapleton, the former Montana secretary of state, has formally announced his candidacy. John Bolton, the former U.S. national security advisor, also is considering a run for the Republican nomination.