Massachusetts’ highest court upholds new mail-in voting law

BOSTON (AP) — A Republican-led effort in Massachusetts to block election officials from enacting the state’s new mail-in and early voting law was thrown out Monday by the Supreme Judicial Court of the state.

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

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

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

Commonwealth Secretary William Galvin, a Democrat whose office oversees the election, said the decision was a victory for voters of all parties.

“It’s a sign for the whole country at a time when misrepresentation has caused some states to curtail voters’ rights that we’re moving forward,” he said.

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

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

“We hope the Supreme Court will provide relief to prevent a constitutional travesty presented by this law,” Lyons added. “Only in Massachusetts can absentee voting be defined as sending 4.7 million ballot requests 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 dealt with by state courts.

The new law makes so-called “no excuse” absentee ballots and early ballots permanent in Massachusetts elections. It also increases access to the ballot for voters with disabilities, overseas military personnel, and incarcerated individuals, and 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.

Suffrage advocates welcomed Monday’s decision.

“Today’s decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court means that voters will be able to rely on the provisions of the VOTES Act in the upcoming election. This is a great victory for suffrage 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 meant to be only temporary until normal voting practices can resume and voters must again vote in person on election day, with some exceptions.

They argue that voters can only request an absentee ballot if they meet one of the exemptions set out in the state constitution, such as being out of town on Election Day or incapacitated, due to a disability. physique or religious beliefs, to vote in person. That day.

Galvin’s lawyers had argued that the new law was appropriate, saying that under the state constitution, the legislature had broad powers to regulate elections and was not as tightly confined as Republicans suggest. .

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

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