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Mass. high court rejects GOP challenge to mail-in voting

The John Adams Courthouse, home to Massachusetts' highest court.Lane Turner/Globe Staff/file

The state’s highest court on Monday dismissed a recent challenge by the Massachusetts Republican Party, which argued a new law that makes universal mail-in voting permanent is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Judicial Court decision comes less than two weeks before the law’s July 23 deadline to send mail ballot applications to registered voters.

“The objections of the Trump faction of the Republican Party of Massachusetts have been dismissed,” said Secretary of State William F. Galvin, whose office has begun printing more than 4 million applications to send out next week.

The party took issue with the VOTES Act, a sweeping election law that makes no-excuse mail-in voting permanent, expands early voting options, and implements post-election audits, among other reforms. The law, signed by Governor Charlie Baker last month, offers millions of Massachusetts voters the ability to vote before primary and general election days using mail-in ballots without having to give a reason.

Before the new legislation was enacted, state law allowed for absentee voting if a voter would be out of town for Election Day, had a religious-based conflict on Election Day, or a disability. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, no-excuse mail-in voting was temporarily allowed to keep voters safe from the coronavirus.

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Massachusetts joined 26 states and Washington, D.C., to offer what’s commonly known as “no-excuse” absentee voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The court didn’t issue a full opinion Monday to the “time constraints” which dictated “the issuance of an immediate order,” but an opinion explaining the court’s reasoning “will follow in due course,” according to the clerk.

“For me, it’s like getting dessert before dinner,” Galvin told reporters Monday.

In 2020, more than 3.6 million residents cast ballots in the state’s general election. Of those, about 42 percent voted by mail, 23 percent voted early in person, and only about 35 percent voted on Election Day.

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Galvin said he hopes turnout is even higher this year, and said he hopes to beat the July 23 deadline by getting mail ballot applications out even earlier.

Advocates for the legislation celebrated the decision Monday, saying the new law will “greatly strengthen out democracy.”

“Policies included in the VOTES Act . . . expand access to the ballot box, while proving immensely secure,” said Vanessa Snow, a policy and organizing director from MassVOTE.

Geoff Foster, the executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts who filed a brief in the case, said the decision is “a big win,” though an expected one.

“We were confident all along that this attempt to block the VOTES Act was meritless,” he said.

The Massachusetts Democratic Party called the decision “a victory for democracy,” characterizing the GOP’s claims as “baseless legal maneuvers.”

“The Mass GOP can’t win elections on merit so they have to resort to attempting to block the will of the voters,” the party chairman, Gus Bickford, said in a statement.

But the Massachusetts Republican Party said Monday that they will now seek relief from the US Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Judicial Court has heard the case and made their decision to not enjoin the law,” GOP Chair Jim Lyons said in a statement. He added that the case “presented significant issues of both state and federal law.”

According to Lyons, party lawyers said they have grounds to seek relief because of federal laws addressed in the new state law.

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“We hope that [the] Supreme Court will provide relief to prevent a constitutional travesty presented by this law,” Lyons said. “Only in Massachusetts can absentee voting possibly be defined as the mailing of 4.7 million ballot applications to every voter in the commonwealth.”

Asked about the GOP’s claim, Galvin said: “I have no injunction, so I am moving as fast as I can.”

“Catch me if you can,” he said.


Samantha J. Gross can be reached at samantha.gross@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @samanthajgross.