Proposals to hold Pennsylvania’s presidential primary in March instead of April and to allow poll watchers to operate outside of the counties in which they live were put forward by a split House of Representatives government committee on Wednesday.
Both bills had already passed the State Senate and were approved for consideration by the entire House.
The state’s primary elections during the presidential election years would be moved from the fourth Tuesday in April to the third Tuesday in March. Proponents say the change would enable the state to have greater influence over how parties choose presidential candidates.
“Right now, Pennsylvania’s primary doesn’t really play a role in the national political scheme,” said committee chairman Seth Grove, R-York, noting that a recent exception was the 2008 primary for Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton .
The vote was 16-8, with two Democrats supporting all Republicans.
Grove and the committee’s senior Democrat, Rep. Scott Conklin of Center County, both said the bill may need to be amended so that the deadline for collecting signatures doesn’t start around Christmas.
The third Tuesday in March is also expected to be the 2024 Presidential Primary Election Day in Arizona, Florida and Illinois. In 2020, the Pennsylvania primary was on the same day as the elections in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, and Delaware.
Lisa Schaefer, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, the group representing the county governments that conduct the core pieces of state elections, said December’s poll officials may still be finishing up work from the previous month’s elections.
If the “third Tuesday in March” schedule had been used this year, it would have meant a March 15 primary, with December 13 through January 13 petition circulation. 4 said Shepherd.
“They’re really looking at a very short window for counties to turn around and get these petition packages ready and get ready for the primary,” Schaefer said. Your organization has not commented on any of the electoral laws.
The election observer bill, sponsored by current GOP gubernatorial nominee Sen. Doug Mastriano of Franklin County, would give candidates the right to have an additional observer and post him inside, close enough to any enlistment and pre-election to see.
“There’s no reason to have election observers unless they can be in plain sight and see clearly what’s happening,” Franklin County Republican Assemblyman Paul Schemel said. Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Westmoreland, called the bill “a clear opportunity to give voters more confidence and belief that we are achieving electoral integrity.”
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s spokeswoman said he was strongly opposed to the poll observer law, calling it an attempt by Mastriano to encourage voter intimidation.
“Republicans should focus their efforts on electoral reform measures that ensure voters can freely and safely exercise their voting rights,” said Wolf’s press secretary Beth Rementer.
Rep. Joe Webster, D-Montgomery, called the proposal “an atrocity of a bill” that fuels erroneous suspicions and suspicions about the state election.
“What’s really happening with bills like this is that we intimidate enough poll workers that they won’t be there,” Webster said.
Conklin warned the bill is “looking for trouble” and may require additional surveillance by law enforcement in all constituencies.
Grove said that although the bill would allow candidates to have three poll watchers at polling stations, in reality “you’re lucky to get one.”
“What this bill does is allow the checks and balances provisions to continue within our elections, which date back to 1937,” Grove said, updated for modern needs.
The party line vote in favor of promoting the measure was 14-10.