Pennsylvania Capitol

THE ISSUE

The state Senate voted unanimously Jan. 29 to approve a bill that would move Pennsylvania’s primary election five weeks earlier in presidential election years, starting in 2024. Primary elections in this state are currently held on the fourth Tuesday in April. The proposed change would mean that primaries in presidential election years would be held on the third Tuesday in March. The bill is now in the state House of Representatives for consideration.

We suspect state Rep. Keith Greiner, R-Upper Leacock, was quite pleased to hear the news of this vote.

We are, too.

This is an issue he has long championed, even as some of the most influential political power brokers in the state were aligned against him.

In 2015, Greiner proposed essentially this same measure in Harrisburg. But it never got sufficient traction in the House.

In a June 2015 editorial, we wrote: “Keith Greiner has voted faithfully in every election since he came of voting age, but he cannot remember ever casting a meaningful vote for his party’s presidential nominee. He says the measure (for an earlier primary) has bipartisan support but may be a heavy lift because it’s opposed by both the Republican and Democratic state party chairs.”

Indeed, those state chairs were the stumbling blocks. They said Greiner’s proposal “throws everything out of whack” or “would inconvenience and cause hardship for many people.” They were referring, in part, to the fact that an earlier primary might force local candidates to circulate petitions during the holiday season. But they were also referring to the overwhelming inertia of the status quo.

Their concerns did not draw our sympathy.

We are firmly in the corner of voter engagement, and an earlier presidential primary — when the outcome is still in doubt and the stakes are higher — is an excellent way to get more Pennsylvania voters jazzed about the electoral process. And our democracy.

Greiner, to his credit, kept up his push after 2015. In an op-ed for LNP | LancasterOnline last April, he again argued that Pennsylvania’s late primary vote — it’s on April 28 this year — all but disenfranchises voters of both parties.

Thirty-one states will hold their primaries before Pennsylvania this year.

“Looking back over history — with the exception of the Republican nominee in 1980 (Ronald Reagan) and the Democratic nominee in 2008 (Barack Obama) — our major parties have had presumptive nominees before Pennsylvanians had the opportunity to vote,” Greiner stated in April. “I do not want to see this happen again. It is time for Pennsylvania to reclaim its status as the Keystone State and give our voters a true voice in influencing the future of our nation.”

And so Greiner introduced House Bill 1183 last year, his second attempt for an earlier primary in Pennsylvania. While that bill hasn’t moved forward in the House, the similar Senate legislation (SB 779) has now passed unanimously.

Republican Sen. John Gordner, of Columbia County, authored that bill, and he echoes many of the points Greiner has stressed over the years.

The Associated Press notes that Gordner’s proposal would not violate any rules of the Democratic National Committee or the Republican National Committee. And the date of the primary would not be moved up in nonpresidential years.

In addition to giving our voters a greater voice in picking presidential candidates, an earlier primary would be a boost to Pennsylvania’s economy.

Iowa is traditionally the first state in the presidential primaries and, according to The Wall Street Journal, “the process nets Iowa tens of millions of dollars in economic impact, with over $10 million in the Des Moines metro area in the final week alone.”

Pushing Pennsylvania — which has one of the highest numbers of delegates up for grabs in the nation — to an earlier spot on the calendar would mean an influx of campaign spending here.

“(It) would likely be an economic driver for the commonwealth,” Greiner wrote last year in his op-ed. “Hotels, media advertising and all the downstream service industries would receive a great boost if Pennsylvania was in the thick of a political contest. Local businesses across the commonwealth also would benefit from increased sales in a contested presidential primary.”

We still believe the most important benefits of an earlier primary are boosting Pennsylvania’s say in picking candidates and energizing voter engagement, but the economic boost is a nice side benefit, too.

It’s simply time for us to be in the mix. We know Pennsylvania is going to be a battleground state for every presidential election, but we should also have a bigger say in choosing the names on that November ballot.

Now that SB 779 has made it through the Senate, we urge House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Peach Bottom, and other House leaders to push it through for a vote and hopefully send it to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk. And we again thank Rep. Greiner for keeping this issue at the forefront of conversation for so many years.

Pennsylvania is the birthplace of democracy. It ought to be treated as such.