Monday, March 23, 2020

Proposed Deal Would Shift Pennsylvania Primary to June 2

After some speculation last week about who ultimately had the authority to do so, it appears as if a deal has been hatched between the executive and legislative branches in Pennsylvania to move the commonwealth's primary from April 28 to June 2.

However, unlike a number of states that have reacted to the rapid spread of coronavirus, Pennsylvania will not act under any emergency powers vested in the executive branch.1 Instead, Pennsylvania decision-makers will follow an expedited course through the legislative process to make the date change.

The plan, as it stands now, is to take an existing elections bill (SB 422) -- one to create an election law advisory board in the Keystone state  -- and use that as a vehicle to make the change. While the bill has lain fallow in the state House since the early summer of 2019, it will be resurrected in the House State Government Committee on Monday, March 23, passed as is and then be sent to the floor of the House.

It is there on Tuesday that two amendments will be offered. One would push the date of the consolidated late April primary to June 2. But another would take the newly revamped and relaxed absentee voting law in the commonwealth and relax it even more. Restrictions on counting expanded absentee voting would be lifted, allowing a count to begin prior to polls closing in the primary election.

Together, the changes would allow for a later primary date ideally outside of the window of the maximum coronavirus threat with broader absentee voting that can be tabulated in a quicker more efficient manner as the primary voting comes to a close on June 2 (assuming the bill passes).

Once the bill makes it through the House, it will have to go back to the state Senate for reconsideration post-amendment. If those changes are agreed to in full, then the bill will head to Governor Tom Wolf's desk for his consideration.

In terms of the practical implications this change would have on the broader delegate selection process for Democrats in Pennsylvania, the effect would be minimal. As in several other states, district delegate candidates appear and are elected on the primary ballot. That can happen on any date. And the selection of Pennsylvania's statewide delegates is set to occur on June 13. Even with the primary date change, those at-large and PLEO delegates would be selected after the primary and by the state Democratic committee rather than a state convention. Pennsylvania, then, would avoid some of the sorts of gatherings that are prohibited by state governments to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Instead, primary voters will have the option of voting directly for district delegates through a mail-in absentee process and have the state committee select (and potentially remotely) the statewide delegates.

Other than pushing the date change through the legislative process, Pennsylvania avoids some of the complications other states have had with respect to the delegate selection process.

Related posts:
Amended Bill to Move Pennsylvania Primary to June 2 Passes House

Pennsylvania Primary Bill Passes State Senate, Heads to Governor

1 Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana and Maryland have all seen governors and/or secretaries of state make these changes under emergency powers granted them.

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