State Fails to Send Khmer Vote-By-Mail Applications

Coronavirus, Lowell Lines, Voting Rights

Civil Rights Organizations Call On Secretary of Commonwealth To Send Khmer-Translated Vote-By-Mail Applications

Despite Legal Requirements, And Representations To Supreme Judicial Court, Galvin Fails To Mail Translated Applications

Lawyers for Civil Rights and the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association (CMAA) today called upon Secretary of Commonwealth William Galvin to immediately implement the emergency State law that requires him to mail vote-by-mail applications translated into Khmer to voters in Lowell.  Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizations raised alarm that Secretary Galvin’s failure to provide the bilingual applications as required by law will result in the disenfranchisement of scores of Khmer-speaking voters.

Under the Emergency Act Relative to Voting Options in Response to COVID-19, Secretary Galvin was required to mail vote-by-mail applications to all registered voters by July 15, 2020. The law specifically states that “[e]ach application mailed pursuant to this subsection shall be provided in any language required by the bilingual election requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. § 10503.”  Under the Voting Rights Act, voters in Lowell, MA are required to receive Khmer-translated materials. However, the Secretary failed to send out those translated applications when mailings occurred earlier this month.

Secretary Galvin has already had to be sued once to compel his compliance with the vote-by-mail law.  When the Act was first passed, the Secretary stated that he would not comply with the July 15, 2020 deadline for mailing applications.  Only after civil rights groups filed an emergency petition in the Supreme Judicial Court did he begin the mailings.  In the course of that lawsuit, the Secretary’s attorneys repeatedly told the Court that “bilingual and trilingual applications” would take longer to mail out, specifically citing Lowell as a jurisdiction where such applications are required.  In fact, however, the mailing sent to Lowell voters contained an English application and a fully translated Spanish application, but no comparable Khmer translation.

“The ability to vote-by-mail will be critically important this Fall, in light of the pandemic” said Sovanna Pouv, Executive Director of CMAA.  “To ensure equal voting opportunity, Secretary Galvin must immediately mail vote-by-mail applications translated into Khmer as required by the law.”

“In passing the vote-by-mail law, the Legislature recognized that language can be a significant barrier to voting and specifically required the Secretary to follow the Voting Rights Act’s language requirements,” said Oren Sellstrom, Litigation Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights.  He noted that the Secretary has received in excess of $8 million in federal funding to cover pandemic-related costs, in addition to $5 million from the Baker Administration.  “There is no excuse for the Secretary’s disenfranchisement of Khmer-speaking voters.  He must fix this mistake now, while there is still time to do so.”