Mail-in ballot applications on their way to voters

Voting rights groups expected to dismiss lawsuit 

SECRETARY OF STATE William Galvin has started mailing out applications for absentee ballots to all registered voters in Massachusetts, and all the applications should be sent out by Tuesday. 

If that happens, voting rights groups say they will dismiss a lawsuit they filed earlier this week accusing Galvin of ignoring a state-mandated deadline for sending out the applications. 

If the mailings are sent out, “We have no reason to doubt that we would be willing to voluntarily dismiss,” said Oren Sellstrom, an attorney for Lawyers for Civil Rights, which represents the voting rights groups, at a hearing before Supreme Judicial Court Justice Frank Gaziano on Friday. 

A new state law allowing mail-in voting during the pandemic required Galvin to send out applications for mail-in ballots to every registered voter by July 15, in advance of the September 1 state primary election 

Common Cause, MassVote, and seven individual voters sued Galvin after he said he would have to delay the mailing because he did not yet have the funding. The voting rights groups said Galvin was required by law to send out the ballot applications by July 15, regardless of whether the Legislature sent him additional money in time. 

Sellstrom said in court that the emergency petition “does appear to have broken the bureaucratic logjam that was delaying the mailing of these critical voting materials.” 

On Thursday, the Legislature sent Gov. Charlie Baker a supplemental budget bill that includes $5 million for Galvin’s office to implement mail-in voting. Earlier this week, Galvin said Baker’s office had advanced him the money, which allowed Galvin to pay for a postal permit.  

According to Assistant Attorney General Anne Sterman, who represents Galvin’s office in the lawsuit, the first 1.6 million ballot applications went out Wednesday, with another 1.5 million on Thursday and 400,000 on Friday. These represent all the English-only mailings. 

In 12 municipalities, mailings must be sent out in two or three languages, and those take longer to print and to get approved by the postal service because of their size. They are being printed now. Sterman said the secretary of state’s office anticipates mailing ballot applications to Boston and Lowell on Monday and to the remaining 10 municipalities on Tuesday. They are Chelsea, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lynn, Malden, Quincy, Revere, Southbridge, Springfield, and Worcester. 

Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said in a statement that while she is glad the ballots are in the mail, she is “troubled” by Galvin’s initial “dismissal” of the law. “We will be closely watching to ensure that the remaining requirements under the law are implemented without delay and that no Bay Stater has to choose between protecting their health and participating in our democracy,” Wilmot said. 

Meet the Author

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.

Once a voter receives an application, they can send it back if they want to a request mail-in ballot for the September primary, the November general election, or both. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, any voter is allowed to request a mail-in ballot this year for any reason.  

For anyone who chooses not to vote by mail, in-person voting will still occur, both early and on Election Day in September and November.