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SJC asked to make last-minute change to state primary election calendar

John Adams Courthouse.  It is home to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and the Massachusetts Appeals Court.
John Adams Courthouse. It is home to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and the Massachusetts Appeals Court.Lane Turner/Globe Staff/File 2018

The state’s top court Monday was asked for a last-minute rewrite of the primary election schedule to make sure postal snafus and a state law requiring all mail-in ballots to be postmarked by the Sept. 1 election do not prevent votes from being properly counted.

The Supreme Judicial Court conducted a tele-hearing into the emergency request made by Rebecca Grossman, a Newton Democrat and one of eight 4th Congressional District primary candidates, along with five voters who believe the unprecedented process created during the coronavrius pandemic is fatally flawed — and voters will pay the price.

“An uncountable number of voters … will either not be able to vote or not have their vote counted,’' Grossman’s attorney, Jeffrey S. Robbins told the court. He asserted that Secretary of State William Galvin is tossing out a “red herring” by claiming any further changes would undermine key deadlines for the November election.

Robbins also noted that last week Galvin urged voters to personally return their completed ballots to the municipal offices, and not put their trust in the US Postal Service to meet the statutory deadline.

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Robbins said that Galvin urged people to don masks, socially distance, and drop their ballots off while municipal clerk offices are holding early voting during business hours this week.

Justice Kimberly S. Budd said during the hour-long hearing that she, like many other voters, does not trust the US Postal Service to properly handle a mail-in ballot.

“Anecdotally, I know of people who have not yet received their ballot,’' Budd said. “I myself after hearing all the concerns about the postal service and whatnot. I was going to request a mail-in ballot and then it sounded like that, gee, that may not be the best way to go. I don’t feel comfortable, and I don’t feel like that is going to work. You are confirming for me that may very well be the case.”

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But Assistant Attorney General Anne Sterman told the justices that Galvin’s office has already provided mail-in ballots to 97 percent of voters in the state who have requested them, and more are being dispatched every minute of the working day.

She also said that the unprecedented number of options voters have this year provide ways to safely vote and still allow Galvin’s office to comply with state and federal election deadlines. But changing the primary election schedule will throw the overall 2020 election off track, she warned.

Sterman noted that one deadline Galvin is concerned about is whether his office can prepare general election ballots and send them to service personnel overseas on time if there is a recount requested in any major primary race. During the 2018 election, a recount was ordered in the 3rd Congressional District race. But this year’s eight-candidate race in the 4th Congressional District would be much more complex to complete, she said.

The SJC took the request under advisement. Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants did not participate in the hearing.



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