Unless PA primary date moved from Passover, voters, candidates and polling places could face problems
PA PrimaryPotential conflict with Pesach

Unless PA primary date moved from Passover, voters, candidates and polling places could face problems

An election coinciding with the Jewish holiday is presenting numerous concerns for local residents

Voting in Pennsylvania's primary isn't simply an issue of bringing matzah to the booth. (Photo by Lindsay D’Addato via Flickr at https://rb.gy/kmgpil)
Voting in Pennsylvania's primary isn't simply an issue of bringing matzah to the booth. (Photo by Lindsay D’Addato via Flickr at https://rb.gy/kmgpil)

For weeks, Elena Davis has texted friends, contacted politicians and told anyone willing to listen that the date of Pennsylvania’s primary must be changed.

Scheduled for April 23, 2024, the date is problematic, the Squirrel Hill resident told the Chronicle: “It’s Passover.”

The biblical holiday, which celebrates the ancient Israelites’ escape from Egypt, will run from April 22-30 next year.

If the primary occurs on April 23, which is the first day of Passover, Davis said it will “prevent observant Jews from having a voice at the polls.”

During the first two days of Passover, like during other major holidays, observant Jews are barred from writing, shaving, playing music and performing various duties. Included among those holiday restrictions: voting, given its requirement to take pen to paper and electronically file a ballot.

“The date needs to be changed so all voices have a chance to be heard and every vote is counted,” Davis said.

“The commonwealth should accommodate this significant group of Pennsylvanians who would be blocked from participating in the election due to their faith,” Rep. Dan Frankel, (D-23) told the Chronicle.

Of the 49,200 Jewish residents identified by the 2017 Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study, 9% of adults are Orthodox.

The nearly 4,000 individuals represent a significant block of local voters.

Merely 1,000 votes determined the outcome of the May 17, 2022, Democratic primary for U.S. House PA-12: Of the 114,580 ballots cast, 48,002 were for Summer Lee; Steve Irwin received 47,014, according to Ballotpedia.

“Denying citizens the option of in-person voting is an affront to civil rights, and, in this case, civil religious liberties as well,” Squirrel Hill resident David Knoll told the Chronicle.

Voters can mail in ballots before the election date, however, “if a candidate were to make a statement in the interim that would disqualify them in the eyes of voters, voters would already be locked in,” he said.

Knoll’s candidacy in the Nov. 7, election is an example.

After Hamas terrorists tore through a security gate in Israel on Oct. 7, en route to murdering, raping and kidnapping Israeli citizens, Bethany Hallam, an at-large member of Allegheny County Council, reposted a poem on X (formerly Twitter) about breaking down walls, as well as a video of Hamas bulldozing a wall on their way to committing last month’s atrocities.

Knoll staged a last-minute write-in campaign for Hallam’s seat because of her continued reluctance to remove the tweet — after 21 days, Hallam finally did.

Despite Knoll’s loss to Hallam, Davis said the case was “an eye-opener to the importance of researching and voting for candidates who are supportive of the Jewish community.”

Frankel, a Jewish resident of Squirrel Hill, told the Chronicle that changing the date of the 2024 primary isn’t off the table yet, it just requires negotiations among politicians, which are “ongoing and delicate.”

“Basically, we are waiting and hoping that Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-41) will run the bill to change the election date from April 23 to April 16,” Rep. Abigail Salisbury (D-34) told the Chronicle.

On Sept. 20, a bill to move the date of Pennsylvania’s 2024 primary to March 19, was approved by the Senate with a bipartisan vote of 45-2. The bill was sent to the House, with added elements.

Pittman issued a statement last month saying, “This latest attempt to add school property tax language into Senate Bill 224, while moving the primary date to April 16 is unacceptable to the Senate Republican majority.”

“The Senate did not care for the amendments that the House added, so they chose to do nothing with the bill,” Salisbury told the Chronicle.

For now, the hope is “the Senate can take the bill to its Rules Committee; they can remove the amendments that we added; they can pass that clean bill — there is no content other than changing the date of the Election Day to April 16 — it would then come back over to the House; we would concur and pass the date on April 16; then the governor can sign it and we would then have a new date,” Salisbury said.

The Swissvale resident is urging voters to contact Republican senators and “encourage Leader Pittman to run this bill clean, run it through Rules, run it on the Senate floor, and then send it back to us in the House so that we can concur.”

If the date of the primary isn’t changed, it would “disenfranchise the Jewish community and create a chilling effect on Jewish candidates running,” she added.

Salisbury is Jewish and told the Chronicle that not only would other Jewish candidates face difficulties on election day, but a primary on Passover creates obstacles with polling places.

In years past, voters would cast ballots at Shaare Torah Congregation in Squirrel Hill.

Salisbury isn’t sure what would happen if the primary date isn’t changed.

She said she’s had “indirect” conversations with representatives of the Orthodox congregation who indicated, “they have not been contacted by anyone in elections, or from the Department of State, to see if they will be available.”

The assumption is Jewish facilities, like Shaare Torah, “will just make accommodations and be open nonetheless, even though it’s Passover,” Salisbury continued. “That’s an issue that has to be addressed if the election is not moved.”

Rhode Island, Delaware and Maryland were slated to hold primaries on April 23. Each state moved the election date earlier, “making Pennsylvania the only state not to do so,” according to Spotlight PA.

Included within the wrinkles of holding a primary on Passover is the potential inability of Jewish poll workers to help that day.

But there’s a greater concern, the state representative said.

“To me, the biggest issue is making sure that everyone regardless of their religion has the right to vote,” Salisbury said. “The right to vote is a fundamental right that our democracy is based on, and I just think that it’s a very dangerous thing to establish a precedent that a religious minority has their right to vote suppressed based on the fact that it is inconvenient to others to change it.”

Salisbury holds a law degree and a Master of Public Policy and Management from the University of Pittsburgh. She also served as an adjunct professor, teaching a First Amendment course, at the school.

“People’s rights or not based on whether it is convenient for others. It is based on the fact that that is their inherent right,” she said. “If we are okay with suppressing the Jewish vote, who else’s vote are we OK with suppressing?” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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