PA's Next Presidential Primary Will Move Up Under State Bill

(Image: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania)

Pennsylvania's 2020 primary is pretty late in the game, scheduled for April 28th this year, long after the excitement of the early states and Super Tuesday. But we do have a sizable tranche of delegates to offer and could play a more pivotal role in the nomination process under a new state bill moving our primary up to March 19th in 2024. 

To prevent an arms race between the states with everybody moving up their dates to try and go first, the national party organizations have set boundaries for exactly how early states can set their election dates without facing consequences. Back in 2008, the DNC memorably punished Florida and Michigan for moving their primary dates up by stripping them of half their delegates to the convention. This year, the DNC also warned New York Governor Andrew Cuomo away from moving his state's primary up to February, in advance of Super Tuesday. New York will vote on April 28th this year, the same day as Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania lawmakers aren't getting as greedy about it as Cuomo, reports Jan Murphy, and they've settled on the third Tuesday in March as the new primary date for 2024 in a new bill passed unanimously by the state Senate this week. That's still after all the states that vote on Super Tuesday, which includes California and its massive delegate haul, but it does bring us into line with Arizona, Florida, Ohio, and Illinois—assuming those states don't move their primaries up in response.

During the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting on Tuesday when the bill was discussed, Gordner said he had no interest in having Pennsylvania join the mob of 14 states that hold their primaries on the first Tuesday in March, regarded as Super Tuesday. Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, said the third Tuesday in March is the earliest date the state could pick without incurring any penalties from the Democratic National Committee which has a rule about that. Gordner concurred with that statement.

Gordner said by having it on the same date as just a couple other big states it would ensure candidates give Pennsylvania a fair amount of attention.

This is good news for Pennsylvania's electoral clout, but don't look for the people who administer elections and run campaigns to be too overjoyed. The March primary date moves all the other important election dates back too, placing the start of the petition period around Christmas and continuing through New Years'.

And with the 50-day early voting policy in place, people would actually be able to start casting ballots as early as January 29th in 2024, meaning the City Commissioners would need to have the ballot ready to go by that date for the early mail-in and no-excuse absentee voters.

It's debatable how much this would really change Pennsylvania's stature in the primary, since we'd still go after Super Tuesday, and there's no telling what other states might do in response. But there are ways we could start voting even earlier if state legislators wanted to. For instance, Minnesota is already voting a week before the Iowa caucus, thanks to their early voting program. The votes won't be counted until their primary on March 3rd, but candidates still need to compete for votes there early since people are going to start casting ballots.

Under the existing vote-by-mail rules here, Pennsylvanians will be able to start voting right around the same time as the Iowa caucus in 2024. If state legislators are able to scale up some of the existing in-person early voting practices permitted by Act 77, or do more to grow the share of people choosing to vote by mail over the next 4 years, Pennsylvania could start to see a lot more early attention from the Presidential campaigns without running afoul of any party rules. 

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