When Maryland state Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-District 17) looks at the new law to move next year’s primary so that it won’t fall on Passover or Ramadan, she sees the state preserving the rights of its citizens.
“While other states are making it harder for people to engage in elections, Maryland has a long track record of being inclusive,” Kagan said. “Changing the date of the primary is further evidence of Maryland wanting to be sure that everyone can participate in democracy.”
Gov. Wes Moore (D) signed the bill into law on April 22 making the second Tuesday of May 2024 primary day in the state.
Kagan noted that the date proved problematic not only for the Jewish community, but the Muslim community.
“When it was discovered that the scheduled primary date fell during Pesach, we knew we needed to make a change,” she explained. “It also fell during Ramadan, so it was not just a problem for the Jewish community but the Muslim community as well.”
While it is uncommon, this is not the first time that a local election has coincided with a Jewish holiday.
“This happened back in 1991, when the primary was moved due to its coinciding with Rosh Hashanah, so there’s precedent for this,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. “And it was far enough in advance to not hinder anyone. If the election date hadn’t been changed, it would have fallen on the first night of the second seder, disenfranchising many Jews.”
A bill was sponsored in the Maryland House by Dels. Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg, Dalya Attar and Jon Cardin — all three of whom are Jewish. The bill also outlined several other proposed election-related rules, such as disallowing local boards of election from moving polling places without the input of their constituents.
“The Passover holiday celebrates our exodus to freedom. Centuries later, Election Day celebrates our fundamental right in a democracy — the right to vote,” Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat, wrote on his blog. “Sponsoring laws that protect the right to vote is one of my proudest accomplishments. When the system works in Annapolis, it is a great thing.”
An effort quickly emerged to change the election’s date to avoid interfering with any holidays that would prevent people from participating in the democratic process.
“As soon as this conflict was pointed out, a number of legislators and other elected officials quickly understood our concerns and stepped up to find a solution that worked — both for our local primaries here in Maryland and as part of the national presidential primary calendar,” said Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, which worked with Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington to make the change possible. “We were pleased to see Gov. Moore sign the legislation.”
Some have pointed out that with early voting and voting by mail available, an election day falling on a religious festival disenfranchises no one.
According to Kagan, “It would preclude observing Jews and Muslims not only from voting in person, but that they would not be able to serve as election judges or poll workers for the candidate of their choice. For all of those reasons, we decided we should move the primary date.”
Halber noted that local Jewish organizations supported members of the Muslim community due to the overlap with Ramadan, and that he appreciates the support the interfaith community has shown on the matter.
The National Conference of State Legislatures lists Pennsylvania, Delaware and Rhode Island as having elections scheduled for April 23, 2024, creating a conflict for Jewish voters in those states.
“It’s just important for [elected officials] to note religious holidays before they set election dates, so things like this don’t happen as often,” Halber said. “Democracy and accessibility are two things we have to protect.” ■