Massachusetts' Highest Court Upholds New Mail-In Voting Law

Opponents had argued the new law — dubbed the VOTES Act — violates the state constitution

An effort led by Massachusetts Republicans to block election officials from putting into effect the state’s new mail-in and early voting law was denied Monday by the state Supreme Judicial Court.

The decision ensures Massachusetts residents will be able to take advantage of the expanded voter options this year.

Opponents had argued the new law — dubbed the VOTES Act — violates the state constitution.

The bill was signed into law by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker in late June after clearing the Democrat-controlled state Legislature. State election officials have already begun readying more than 4.7 million ballot applications to send to voters by July 23 ahead of the Sept. 6 primary.

Mail-in voting was a huge success during the pandemic; in 2020 a record number of votes were cast in Massachusetts. But the state’s Republican Party says it’s unconstitutional and in an online hearing asked the Supreme Judicial Court to strike it down...adding to their argument that it’s not safe.

Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, a Democrat whose office oversees elections, said the decision is a win for voters of all parties.

“It’s a sign to the whole country at a time when false claims have been causing some states to roll back voter rights that we are moving forward,” he said.

Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Jim Lyons said he plans to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lyons said the case presented what he called significant issues of both state and federal law, including what he described as the “differential treatment between absentee voters and early voters.”

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

Galvin said he doesn’t think the court will accept the appeal because interpretations of state constitutions are typically handled by state courts.

The new law makes so-called “no excuse” mail-in ballots and early voting permanent fixtures in Massachusetts elections. It also increases ballot access for voters with disabilities, service members overseas and incarcerated individuals, as well as takes steps to modernize the state’s election administration process.

Many of the voting options included in the new law were implemented during the height of the coronavirus pandemic and proved popular.

Voting rights advocates hailed Monday’s ruling.

“Today’s decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court means that voters will be able to rely on the provisions of the VOTES Act in the upcoming elections. This is a big win for voting rights in Massachusetts,” said Geoff Foster, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts.

The state GOP had argued that the expansion of mail-in and early voting during the pandemic was only meant to be temporary until normal voting practices could resume and that voters must again cast their ballots in person on election day, with limited exceptions.

They maintain voters can only seek a mail-in ballot if they meet one of the exemptions spelled out in the state constitution, such as being out of town on election day or unable by reason of physical disability or religious belief to cast their vote in person that day.ADVERTISEMENT

Lawyers for Galvin had argued the new law is appropriate, saying under the state constitution that the Legislature has broad powers to regulate elections and is not as narrowly confined as Republicans suggest.

Massachusetts joins 34 states and Washington, D.C., in offering “no-excuse” absentee voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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