Mass. pursuing lawsuit over post office cuts
Galvin: More than 1m voters have requested mail-in ballots
MASSACHUSETTS IS JOINING a multistate coalition filing a federal lawsuit requiring President Trump’s administration to adequately fund the US Postal Service and ensure it can deliver election-related mail.
Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, a Democrat, said at a press conference that more than 1 million Massachusetts’ voters have already applied for ballots to vote by mail. He said his experience dealing with the Trump administration on the Census showed that “the only way you remedy the bureaucratic problems they create is to go to court.”
Attorney General Maura Healey said she had joined a coalition led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro that is filing a federal lawsuit challenging the postal service’s recent operational changes.
“By interfering with the Postal Service, President Trump is putting both our democracy and people’s health at risk,” Healey said in a statement. “We are suing to ensure the integrity of our electoral process and to make sure each and every vote is counted during this election.”
The multi-state lawsuit that Healey joined claims that the postal service did not follow proper procedures when it made changes such as limiting shift lengths and requiring late-arriving mail to be left for the next day. The suit also claims the postal service is impeding states’ rights to conduct free and fair elections. It seeks to overturn the agency’s actions and guarantee safeguards for election mail.
The postmaster general has been making organizational changes and implementing cost-cutting measures at the postal service, stoking fears that the administration is trying to prevent the timely delivery of mail-in ballots in advance of the November election. Trump has worried that expanded mail-in voting will lead to voter fraud. Trump has said publicly that if Congress is unable to approve more funding for the post office, there cannot be universal mail-in voting, which many Democrats have been pushing for.
Amid growing pressure, the postmaster general announced Tuesday afternoon that he would suspend making the operational changes he had planned.
Massachusetts is among the states that received a letter from the US Postal Service warning that if ballots are cast by mail close to the November election, they may not be delivered in time. Galvin said he is “concerned” about postal delays and was “alarmed” to receive the letter, which he called inappropriate.
“I really have to worry about the motivation,” Galvin said. “The postal service has been able to provide ballot delivery even during wars. I don’t understand why this would be such a problem.” Galvin said there is no reason election mail cannot be expedited.
Gov. Charlie Baker said at a State House press conference that the federal government needs to provide more money to the postal service because of the big downturn in business mail caused by the pandemic. The governor said business mail is one of the postal service’s largest sources of revenue.
“It’s not even part of the conversation at this point and it should be,” he said.
Already, Galvin said, 1,034,433 voters have requested mail-in ballots for either the September 1 state primary or the November general election, comprising 22 percent of Massachusetts’ registered voters. So far, 961,000 ballots have been mailed out, and 161,000 people have already voted.
Galvin said 820,000, or 85 percent, of the ballots that were mailed out were Democratic ballots. The Democratic primary includes a hotly contested race for US Senate between US Sen. Ed Markey and US Rep. Joe Kennedy, as well as a multi-candidate congressional race for Kennedy’s seat.
Urban areas so far have had lower than average rates of mail-in ballot requests. In Springfield and Lawrence, both poor, heavily minority cities, only 10 percent of voters have requested mail-in ballots, among the lowest rates in the state.
In Boston, 17.6 percent of registered voters, more than 73,700 people, have requested ballots by mail. In Worcester, that number is 16.4 percent of voters, or 17,500 people.
The areas with the highest percentages of voters requesting mail-in ballots are rural areas, such as Shutesbury, Pelham and Stow, and wealthy Boston suburbs, including Arlington, Concord, Lincoln, Lexington, and Wellesley. Around 40 percent or more of voters in these communities have requested mail-in ballots.
Galvin said he is urging voters to return mail-in ballots as quickly as possible to make sure “any disruption or delay” by the postal service does not affect their ballot. Municipalities will also have drop boxes so voters can deliver their ballot in person.
While the deadline for requesting a vote-by-mail ballot is August 26, Galvin suggested that as the deadline approaches, people consider voting in person. Someone who is called out of town or hospitalized can still request a traditional absentee ballot – which requires voters to have a reason they cannot go to the polls on Election Day – until noon on August 31.
Voters who wish to vote in person can do so during early voting, which begins this Saturday, or on Election Day. Galvin said his office has been working with local officials to provide personal protective equipment to poll workers, move polling locations to more spacious rooms, and ensure protections are taken related to social distancing and spacing of voter booths.
“Voting in person will be safe. We are going to great lengths to make sure of that,” Galvin said.
Galvin declined to predict exact turnout for the upcoming primary, although he said he anticipated it would be higher than eight years ago, when half a million voters cast ballots. Anecdotally, he said he believes many of those casting early ballots by mail are voters who would otherwise vote reliably in person.
Galvin’s office has said that 200,000 ballot applications were returned to his office due to an outdated address. But Galvin blamed that on a federal requirement that inactive voters remain on the voter rolls for some time after they move. He said there is “no evidence” of voter fraud so far, and clerks who receive ballots by mail are required to verify the signature on the ballot.
Due to the post office problems, Becky Grossman, a Democratic 4th District Congressional candidate, has said she will seek a court order to ensure that all ballots postmarked by September 1 are counted in Massachusetts even if they arrive after Election Day. Under current law, ballots that arrive at a clerk’s office by Friday after the general election will be counted, but primary ballots must arrive by Election Day.Galvin said Grossman’s threatened lawsuit “plays right into the hands of those who want to delay the election.” Galvin said he needs every possible day to prepare ballots for the general election and get mail-in ballots out to voters as soon as possible, and allowing a delay in tallying the final primary results “would really undercut the rights of voters in November to have a ballot as early as possible.”