Four states have presidential primaries that fall on the first day of Passover next year and legislation has been introduced in at least two of them, Maryland and Pennsylvania, to change the date.
The four states listed on the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures as having presidential primaries on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 are Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Rhode Island. Passover starts the previous evening, and traditional Jewish law, or halacha, prohibits writing, driving or the use of electricity on the holiday, which would make voting impossible for many observant Jews.
The Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, are home to a substantial and close-knit Jewish community, including Orthodox enclaves. Baltimore also has a large Jewish community with a substantial Orthodox component. Ronald Halber, the director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said on Wednesday that his organization was already coordinating with the Maryland legislature to change the date.
“The JCRC is working with both House and Senate leaders to pass legislation that will correct this unfortunate conflict and we are confident that the matter will be resolved without any issues,” he said.
The leaders of both chambers in Maryland’s state legislature, both Democrats, said last month they were willing to change the date, and an Orthodox Jewish Democratic lawmaker, Dalya Attar, has initiated legislation to do so.
Attar told Jewish Insider that she appreciated Maryland’s flexible voting system, which allows for early voting, but that it is not sufficient to compensate for holding a primary on the first day of Passover.
“Having the primary is great and having those early voting dates are very helpful,” she said. “But the reality is, many people go out and vote on Election Day.”
Robin Schatz, the director of government affairs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said she was looking into the matter. “We are working to see if it can get moved,” she told JTA.
There are substantial Jewish populations, including Orthodox enclaves, in Pittsburgh and in Philadelphia and its suburbs. The state’s governor, Democrat Josh Shapiro, is an observant Jew.
Pennsylvania lawmakers are separately considering moving the primary up by a month, to March 19, to make the state more relevant to primary season. That initiative has nothing to do with Passover, Schatz said. As the schedule currently stands, the primary and caucus season will begin when Iowa holds its Republican presidential caucuses in late January. South Carolina will hold the first Democratic nominating contest in early February.
Jewish officials in Rhode Island said they were reaching out to the Secretary of State to discuss options. Jewish officials in Delaware were unavailable for comment.