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Voting rights groups sue Galvin over mail-in voting

SHIRA SCHOENBERG Jul 13, 2020


VOTING RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS are asking the Supreme Judicial Court to force Secretary of State William Galvin to send out applications for mail-in ballots this week – even though Galvin says he doesn’t yet have the money.


Common Cause, MassVOTE, and seven individual voters sued Galvin, filing an emergency petition with the state’s highest court on Monday, arguing that he is violating the new state law regarding mail-in voting.


The law, which Gov. Charlie Baker signed July 6, lets all Massachusetts residents who want to vote by mail in the September primary or November general election do so. It requires Galvin to send applications for mail-in ballots to every registered primary voter by July 15.

But Galvin told the State House News Service on July 7 that while he had hoped to meet that deadline, the Legislature has not yet sent him money to pay for postage.


In an email toCommonWealth, Galvin spokeswoman Debra O’Malley said the mailing will go out – the only question is how soon the office can get the money to pay for postage.


The Massachusetts Senate approved a $5 million appropriation in a supplemental budget, which O’Malley said “will be more than enough” to cover the cost of printing the mailing, sending it to more than 4.5 million voters, and paying for postage on applications that are returned. The House passed a similar version of the bill Monday afternoon, although it still needs additional votes before it makes it to the governor’s desk. O’Malley said in the absence of that bill, Galvin is working with the governor’s office to find funding elsewhere.


O’Malley said the applications have been printed and are ready to go out, but the office needs to pay for the postal permit and finalize the terms of paying the post office before it can send out the mailing.


Galvin, in an interview, said July 15 was an “arbitrary” deadline that was not reasonable, since the Legislature only passed the bill July 2, and Galvin needs to work out the logistics of the mailing and coordinate with the post office. “The mailing is definitely going out…as soon as reasonably possible,” Galvin said.


But the voting rights groups say Galvin must send out the ballots by July 15 regardless of any funding holdup, and they are asking the court to order him to do so.


Their lawsuit notes that the federal CARES Act gave the state $8.3 million earmarked for the Secretary of the State to prepare for the 2020 election, although Galvin’s office has questioned whether that money can be used to send out ballot applications, rather than the ballots themselves.


“Absent relief, the Secretary’s refusal to execute the provisions of the Act will undermine the rule of law and jeopardize the safety of Massachusetts voters in the upcoming elections,” the lawsuit contends.


The individual petitioners are all people at high risk for contracting COVID-19 – many of them elderly, low-income, or non-English speakers with medical conditions – who are relying on getting an application and applying to vote by mail.


Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, executive director of MassVOTE, said in a statement, “A timely mailing is critical for voters who are elderly and/or low-income and do not have access to a computer and printer. Secretary Galvin’s inaction will hurt the most vulnerable communities in our state whose voices are most often ignored.”


Galvin called the lawsuit “self-serving” by groups that are interested in “self-promotion and grandstanding.”


This story originally appeared on Commonwealth Magazine.org. Check it out here.



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