Early voting by mail challenged by Republicans

Lawsuit says it ‘encouraged unqualified individuals to vote'

A LAWSUIT FILED by several losing Republican candidates challenging the use of mail-in voting in 2020 will have its day in court Thursday – and could provide a preview of litigation down the line if the state expands early voting by mail.

Former congressional candidates John Paul Moran and Caroline Colarusso, state Senate candidate Steven Hall, and state representative candidates Ingrid Centurion and Craig Valdez filed suit in Worcester Superior Court challenging the expansion of no-excuse early voting in the 2020 elections.

The Republicans say that lawmakers’ allowance of early voting for any reason during the COVID-19 pandemic “encouraged unqualified individuals to vote, and did not ensure that the elections were either free or fair.”

They say the process lacked mechanisms for confirming voters’ identities, increasing the chance of voter fraud. The lack of the safeguards that exist on Election Day, they wrote in a court brief, “allows many opportunities for fraud, illegal voting, and unqualified voters to place their ballots amongst those of the qualified voters.”

The Republicans are asking that the 2020 election results be overturned and that the judge permanently prevent Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin from implementing a variety of voting practices, including mail-in ballot applications and voting, early voting (which has existed for several election cycles), no-excuse absentee ballots, and the acceptance of ballots after Election Day.

Galvin and Gov. Charlie Baker, represented by Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, responded in a court brief that the plaintiffs are asking for an “astonishing remedy” justified by “manufactured claims of hypothetical opportunities for voter fraud and baseless constitutional claims.”

Healey’s office also says the plaintiffs filed too late, the vote-by-mail bill already expired since it only applied for 2020, and they lack standing to sue.

But while the Republicans face an uphill battle to overturn election results – a federal judge already expressed skepticism over an earlier lawsuit the group withdrew – the most interesting part of the suit is the preview it provides of constitutional claims that are already being raised in discussions of future expansions of vote-by-mail.

The Republican candidates argue that voting early by mail is unconstitutional because the state Constitution only allows absentee voting for specific reasons – for example, if someone is out of town.

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

State officials say early voting is an “entirely different species of balloting” than absentee voting, so the limitations on absentee voting do not apply. “It strains logic to argue that providing additional opportunities for voters to cast their vote results in an unconstitutional infringement on free and fair elections,” they wrote.

The judge may not need to address the constitutional question, if she rules on dismissing the case based on any of the other issues. But with numerous bills pending before the Legislature to expand early voting in the future, the plaintiffs make clear that the question is not going away.