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Millions of Massachusetts applications for mail-in ballots are in the mail

Voter receiving ballot through mail.Adobe

Millions of applications for mail-in ballots are arriving across Massachusetts Thursday, but civil rights groups remain skeptical that Secretary of State William Galvin will comply with a new law aimed at increasing voter participation during the pandemic and in future elections.

Lawmakers, moving to refine early voting by mail deadlines, expanded the timetable and Governor Baker signed it into law last week, a measure that required Galvin to start mailing out 4.5 million applications this Wednesday. But Galvin said he first needed $5 million to pay for postal costs, money that Baker has since provided Galvin until an appropriation for the same amount arrives.


The applications have since found their way from the printers to the US Postal Service and Galvin’s office is already hearing from voters with questions about the process that allows a voter to choose whether to appear in person for the September primary or cast their votes on documents from Galvin’s office and mail them back.

“We are already getting questions from voters,‘' Debra O’Malley, Galvin’s spokeswoman said Thursday. Other voters “can expect to receive it very soon.”

Instead of being accused of a laggard response to the new law as the lawsuit suggests, O’Malley said Galvin’s office spent months designing what would be contained on the mail-in application, and had millions of the documents already printed and waiting.

“That allowed us to start as soon we had the funding,‘' O’Malley said. “It isn’t like we just started. We’ve been working on it for some time, for months, even before the law was written.”

Oren Sellstrom, the litigation director for Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) applauded Galvin’s office for starting to send out the applications. But, he wrote in an e-mail, LCR and the voters they represent won’t drop their lawsuit until Galvin confirms his process has worked and 4.5 million voters now know their options.


“We plan to keep pressing forward with the lawsuit until the Secretary has mailed out every last vote-by-mail application,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. “It is unfortunate that it took a lawsuit to force the Secretary to fulfill this critical duty under the law, but we are pleased that our lawsuit has succeeded in compelling his compliance.”

Common Cause, MassVOTE, and seven Black, Latino, Asian, and elderly voters along with the LCR filed the lawsuit this week directly with the Supreme Judicial Court, asking the leader of the judicial branch to instruct an executive branch agency to act immediately. A hearing is currently set for Friday afternoon before Justice Frank Gaziano sitting as a single justice.

John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.