Victory! Massachusetts Starts Sending Mail-In Ballot Applications

Coronavirus, Racial Justice, Voting Rights

Following an emergency petition filed in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) by seven Black, Latinx, and Asian-American voters, Common Cause Massachusetts, and MassVOTE, the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts William Galvin has started sending mail-in ballot applications to voters. The case, Bertin v. Galvin, was filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights and Ropes & Gray on a pro bono basis, and prompted immediate state action. The mailing started in advance of today’s emergency hearing before the SJC, at which Justice Frank M. Gaziano ordered Secretary Galvin to file a status report by next Wednesday outlining steps he has taken to complete the mailing.  

On July 7th, Secretary Galvin announced that he would not send the mail-in ballot applications to voters as mandated under the state’s new emergency elections law. Secretary Galvin claimed that he did not have enough funds to cover the mailing. Voters of color, Common Cause Massachusetts, and MassVOTE, disputed this assertion, pointing to over $8 million in CARES Act Act funding Galvin’s office had received, and argued that compliance with the new state law is required in any case.

In the face of litigation, and a statement by the federal Election Assistance Commission reiterating that CARES Act funds can be used to mail ballot applications, Secretary Galvin reversed course on his claims around funding and started mailing 4.5 million applications

“We are glad that our litigation prompted action and that Bay Staters will receive their applications to vote by mail soon,” said Pam Wilmot, Executive Director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “But the Secretary’s initial dismissal of the law is deeply troubling. We will be closely watching to ensure that the remaining requirements under the law are implemented without delay and that no Bay Stater has to choose between protecting their health and participating in our democracy.” 

“It is unfortunate that it took a lawsuit to force the Secretary to fulfill this critical duty under the law, but we are pleased that our lawsuit succeeded in compelling his compliance,” said Oren Sellstrom, Litigation Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights. “The case will remain active until the Secretary has mailed out every last mail-in ballot application, to ensure that voters in the Commonwealth, particularly in communities of color and low-income communities, are not disenfranchised.”  Sellstrom noted that among the ballot applications that still have not been sent are bilingual and trilingual applications used in 12 municipalities.

“That the Secretary of Commonwealth has taken steps towards getting the mailing underway is good news,” said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, Executive Director of MassVOTE. “But let us be clear: in a moment when our local elections officials are already scrambling to prepare for a surge in mail-in ballots, any delay threatens to make their job harder because it means more voters will have no choice but to get absentee ballot applications and send them in at the last minute. In other states that have held primaries during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen hundreds of thousands of ballots left uncounted for this exact reason. Massachusetts can and must do better.”

Without receiving a mail-in ballot application, the petitioners in this case — most of whom have serious underlying medical conditions and limited access to computers or printers at home — would experience difficulty requesting ballots and exercising their right to vote without risking COVID-19 infection, illness, and death. 

The petition, filed directly with the SJC, sought emergency relief in the nature of mandamus ordering Secretary Galvin to comply with the state’s new emergency elections law and send out mail ballot applications by the required date and send out mail-in ballot applications by the required date. 

The case pending before the SJC is Bertin v. Galvin.  

Check out our courageous voters here

The full petition is available here: