The primary is not secondary: Make a plan
OpinionGuest columnist

The primary is not secondary: Make a plan

Kate Rothstein wants to make sure you have a plan to vote in the primary despite it falling on Passover.

Vote. (Photo by Bill Smith courtesy of
Vote. (Photo by Bill Smith courtesy of

I’m passionate about voting. I’ve voted in every election since I turned 18. Over the past 20 years, I’ve been a poll watcher, a poll protector, an emergency application and ballot runner for hospitalized people, and a poll worker.

My work with the National Council of Jewish Women involves advocating to protect democracy and promoting equitable voting. This work hits close to home for the 2024 primary.

My Jewish community, especially, needs to know that voting this year may require voting by mail because the primary is on Passover — Pesach I, the 15th of Nissan — or Tuesday, April 23. This means that if you think you’ll be busy hosting family, doing clean-up from the seder the night before, prepping for the second seder or observing the chag to the fullest extent, you won’t be able to vote in person.

So, if you are already registered to vote and have never voted by mail, you will need to apply for a mail-in ballot, get the ballot, receive the ballot by mail, mark it and then return it all before April 23. If you’re not registered to vote or your registration has lapsed, you’ll need to register to vote first. Each step takes time, and the longer you wait, the busier the county voting office gets; if voting is important to you, and I hope it is, you should start this process today

As if that weren’t enough, if you wanted to vote in person on April 23 at your usual polling location, you might not be able to because dozens of polling sites in Allegheny County will be moving, many because they are located in Jewish facilities which will not be available on Pesach. This affects both Jewish folks and our non-Jewish neighbors. We also know that many poll workers, like me, and county election workers are being impacted.

How did all this come about? In early 2023, with Gov. Josh Shapiro’s backing, a group of legislators recommended moving the primary so it wouldn’t conflict with Passover. Several Pennsylvania senators introduced a bill that would have moved the elections to March. They argued that having the primary then would make Pennsylvania’s voting more meaningful. With one of the last primaries in the country, each party’s nominee has usually been established by the time of Pennsylvania’s vote. In contrast to the senators, Pennsylvania House legislators suggested an earlier date in April rather than March.

Neither the House nor the Senate would concede their proposed dates, so the original fourth Tuesday in April remains. Ironically enough, one reason the earlier April date was rejected by the Senate was because it was too close to Easter, not recognizing that April 23 is on Passover.

Admittedly, moving an election date is challenging. Polling locations need to be secured according to the needs and schedules of the facilities used. Schools, in particular, need as much lead time as possible. They set their calendars before the start of the school year and, if they are a polling location, they may be closed for students. Parents rely on these calendars to set their work schedules. Additionally, candidate deadlines and logistical deadlines must be respected and are determined based on the election date.

We know that the issue didn’t need to be a last-minute showdown. We should have known of this conflict since the time the primary was established on the fourth Tuesday of April — decades at least.

While it is unlikely to happen again soon since a late April Pesach/chag doesn’t happen too frequently (the next time under the current system is 2035), let’s ask our legislators to do better next time. They can include language that ensures they check each primary date two years in advance and institute a change by a week or two if the date occurs on a religious holiday.

The good news is that you can still vote using the following steps: Confirm your voter registration status and update or register as needed. If voting by mail, apply for a mail-in ballot. Receive your ballot by mail. Mark your ballot. The only marks on the ballot should be your voting marks. Put your ballot in the secrecy envelope. Put the secrecy envelope inside the provided mailing envelope. Sign the mailing envelope, using your signature, and date the mailing envelope with the date you complete the ballot. Add postage. Mail your ballot or deposit it in the secure county-approved drop boxes the two weekends before the election, or take it to the elections counter on the first floor of the City County Building Downtown.

You can also vote early at the county elections office, where you can register, get your ballot and vote in one stop. If voting in person on April 23, confirm your polling location, which may have changed.

Make a plan to vote. Remember, the primary is not secondary. In districts that are heavily weighted to one party, the primary might be the voting space where the position is effectively elected, and there are often important ballot initiatives to decide.

We don’t want to be disenfranchised when there are ways to make our vote count. I encourage you to vote the whole ballot and to make sure the Jewish vote remains strong. PJC

Kate Rothstein is the National Council of Jewish Women advocacy manager and League of Women Voters Faith-Based Committee volunteer co-chair.

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