Secretary of State William F. Galvin said Sunday he will seek a historic eighth four-year term as Massachusetts’ top elections official, launching a Democratic primary that could test voters’ appetite for generational change as voting rights and election administration surge to the political fore.
Galvin, 71, has led the secretary’s office since 1995, and in 2020, oversaw an unprecedented pandemic-era election in which record numbers of voters cast ballots, including for the first time through no-excuse mail-in voting.
With the completion of this term, no secretary of state in Massachusetts history will have served longer than him, and only two other current secretaries of state nationwide have been in office longer than the Brighton Democrat.
“This is a critical time for democracy. That’s why I think I can provide a unique service,” Galvin said in a Globe interview Sunday night. “Probably the biggest shift is the national climate, the importance of elections. I believe I can continue to do it effectively. I don’t believe anyone else can [do it as well] at this point.”
Galvin will face his second primary challenge in as many cycles, this time from Tanisha M. Sullivan, a corporate attorney and president of the NAACP’s Boston branch who has pitched herself as a fresh voice who could wield the office’s bully pulpit well beyond the State House.
In winning his seventh term in 2018, Galvin fended off what was considered his fiercest challenge since first winning office 28 years ago, easily defeating then-Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim in their Democratic primary.
Galvin lost just three communities statewide — Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville — solidifying his reputation as a hard-nosed, zealous politician known throughout political circles as the “Prince of Darkness.” He later defeated Republican Anthony Amore and a Green-Rainbow Party candidate in the November election, earning 71 percent of the vote.
Galvin has been a fixture in Beacon Hill politics for more than 40 years, first winning a seat in the Massachusetts House in the mid-1970s before running unsuccessfully for state treasurer in 1990. He returned to win his secretary of state seat in 1994 and has rarely faced trouble at the ballot box since.
Only Republican Frederic Cook, whose 28-year tenure as secretary lasted until 1949, has served longer than Galvin in Massachusetts history. And now with the retirement this month of New Hampshire’s top election official, Bill Gardner, only Galvin’s counterparts in Wisconsin, a Democrat, and North Dakota, a Republican, have been in office longer.
Since Wisconsin’s secretary’s duties do not include administering elections, Galvin noted, he is now the longest-tenured Democrat tasked with overseeing elections nationwide.
He suggested to the Globe’s editorial board in 2018 that this term could be his last. But Galvin said he made no firm declaration and considers his experience more important now than ever as former president Donald Trump and his acolytes stoke false claims of widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election.
“I have a specific role to play,” Galvin said. “I want to speak out on those issues nationally. And I have.”
Sullivan, 47, could also make history if elected. She would be both the first woman and first person of color to be secretary of the Commonwealth, who is also responsible for ensuring public agencies comply with Massachusetts public records law, policing the state’s financial industry, and ensuring lobbyists comply with registration and disclosure laws.
Sullivan argued that Massachusetts’ secretary of state should more forcefully advocate for protecting rights around the country, promising to work “arm in arm” with others elsewhere when those rights are under attack.
She also said she can bring a “fresh perspective,” echoing arguments Zakim made four years ago when he said the office needed a new, more progressive leader.
Rayla Campbell, a Whitman Republican who ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign challenging US Representative Ayanna Pressley in 2020, has filed paperwork with state regulators for a secretary of state campaign on the GOP ticket.
Galvin has fiercely defended his record, arguing he’s been aggressive in advocating for voting reforms in recent years. He has pushed the Legislature to embrace permanent mail-in balloting, as well as same-day voter registration, and his office also helped institute automatic voter registration after its passage in 2018.
“She’s making the same pitch [as Zakim], really,” Galvin said Sunday of Sullivan. “The issue is skill. I think my skills are unique.”
Galvin said he’s waited until now to declare his reelection bid to avoid putting a political tint on his push in the Legislature to make expanding voting-by-mail permanent and to change this fall’s primary election date to Sept. 6, the day after Labor Day.
The House is expected to take a bill on Thursday that would implement the former, while the Senate is slated to pass a package that includes the change to the primary date on Wednesday.
“I’m very proud of my record. Anybody running has to say how are they going to do better,” Galvin said. “That’s up to them. That’s their burden. My burden is making sure my record is known. And I will make sure it is.”