SJC upholds no-excuse voting by mail
Galvin says ballot applications will go out next week
THE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT will uphold the VOTES Act, the new law that allows Massachusetts residents to vote early by mail for any reason.
The court on Monday announced that it will reject a challenge by a group of Massachusetts Republican Party leaders and side entirely with Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin to keep the law intact for the 2022 election cycle.
In a highly unusual nod to the time-sensitive nature of the case, with Galvin under pressure to begin printing vote-by-mail applications for the state primary coming up September 6, the court released a two-page order saying only that it will rule in favor of Galvin, and its reasoning will be forthcoming.
“The plaintiffs’ request to enjoin the Secretary from putting the VOTES act into effect is denied,” the Supreme Judicial Court wrote. “Although time constraints dictate the issuance of an immediate order, a full opinion explaining the court’s reasoning will follow in due course.”
Galvin said he does not believe the Supreme Court will take the case, since it is about an interpretation of the Massachusetts Constitution. “We’re going ahead,” Galvin told reporters at a State House press conference. “I have no injunction, so I’m moving as fast as I can. Catch me if you can.”
The new law allows no-excuse mail-in voting, expands early voting, authorizes electronic voting for people with disabilities and overseas military voters, and makes other changes to the voting process aimed at making it easier to vote.
Lyons, secretary of state candidate Rayla Campbell, congressional candidate Robert May, Republican State Committee member Evelyn Curley, and ballot committee member Raymond Xie had challenged numerous aspects of the new law. The core of their complaint was that the state Constitution allows absentee voting only in specific circumstances, such as if someone is out of town on Election Day. They said no-excuse early voting by mail contradicts the Constitution by authorizing absentee voting in other circumstances. They also argued against several other provisions of the law. The Republicans had asked the court to stop Galvin from implementing the law for this election cycle as the litigation proceeds. It will become clearer once the full SJC opinion is released whether the litigation will be able to continue related to election cycles beyond 2022.
The case moved at lightning speed under an enormously compressed time frame. Baker, a Republican, signed the law on June 22, and Lyons filed suit the next day. By law, Galvin must send out ballot applications to all voters by July 23 for the September primary. The court, recognizing the urgency, heard oral arguments July 6 and issued its decision just five days later.
Galvin said now that the court decision has been released, ballot applications will start being printed immediately on Monday. He expects the four-million-piece mailing to be sent out starting next week. “The presses are now rolling to put out the applications,” Galvin said.
Asked about the cost of implementing the law, Galvin said he does not yet know the exact cost, but it could be $20 million to $25 million. “These reforms, while welcome and useful, are costly, but I believe it’s a cost worth bearing,” Galvin said.
Galvin, a Democrat running for reelection, panned the lawsuit as the GOP demonstrating “a clear hostility to the rights of voters to participate.” “Hopefully by the court rejecting the Trump faction of the party, we’ll make a statement nationally about how important and how easy it is to empower voters,” Galvin said. “It doesn’t come at any cost to election integrity.”
Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman Gus Bickford called the ruling “a victory for democracy and voter access.” “The Mass GOP can’t win elections on merit so they have to resort to attempting to block the will of voters,” Bickford said in a statement. “Thankfully their baseless legal maneuvers were seen for what they are: nonsense.”During the COVID-19 pandemic, voting by mail was implemented for the first time as a safety measure to prevent people from gathering at the polls. The 2020 elections saw record-high turnout, and voting rights advocates pushed for the permanent continuation of mail-in voting as a turnout measure. Galvin said with the state primary being held the day after Labor Day, he anticipates many people will want to mail in their ballots because they are traveling or returning to school out of state, or if the COVID pandemic resurges.
The last day to apply for a mail-in or absentee ballot for the primary will be August 29. The voter registration deadline, shortened from 20 before any election to 10 days by the VOTES Act, will be August 27. Early voting, which was expanded by the law, will also begin August 27.