Permanent mail-in voting is now the law in Massachusetts – unless Republican Party chair Jim Lyons has his way.
The conservative GOP chair filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday challenging voting by mail as unconstitutional, a day after Gov. Charlie Baker bucked many in his party by signing voting-by-mail into law.
“There’s a reason why we have three branches of government, and we’re confident that the Supreme Judicial Court will strike down and expose the Democrats’ unconstitutional permanent expansion of mail-in voting,” Lyons said in a statement.
The lawsuit was filed by a group of Republicans – Lyons, Secretary of the Commonwealth candidate Rayla Campbell, congressional candidate Robert May, Republican State Committee member Evelyn Curley, and Raymond Xie, who is described as a ballot committee member.
Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, a Democrat, in an interview called the suit “baseless,” “without merit,” and “really outrageous.” Galvin said there have been no procedural issues or issues related to accuracy with mail-in voting so far. “Vote-by-mail has been a great success,” he said.
Galvin said the lawsuit “is a philosophical objection to allowing people to vote.”
The suit, filed by Lynnfield attorney Michael Walsh, reads as much like a policy paper as a lawsuit, delving into the history of electoral laws and constitutional changes related to the vote in Massachusetts. In a preamble, the lawsuit portrays mail-in voting, which was instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic, as an “unusual and uncomfortable compromise” during the state of emergency and argues that “the ending of the emergency compels the return to normalcy.”
The core of the legal complaint is a constitutional issue that experts have speculated for months is likely to be litigated should permanent voting by mail become law. The Massachusetts Constitution lays out specific circumstances under which a person can vote absentee: if the voter is out of town on Election Day, or if they have a physical disability or religious belief that prevents them from voting on Election Day. The lawsuit argues that by setting out specific circumstances under which someone can vote absentee, the Constitution negates the ability of the Legislature to allow general no-excuse mail-in voting.
During the pandemic, the lawsuit says, there could be an argument that every voter had a physical disability. Now, according to the lawsuit, “special dispensations under emergency powers cannot simply be put in place without regard for the existing frame of government.”
Proponents of mail-in voting have argued that mail-in voting is a form of early voting, which is legally distinct from absentee voting.
The lawsuit also argues that early voting is unconstitutional because the Constitution sets out a specific election date and timelines for other electoral procedures, like the submission of signatures for initiative petitions, all of which are affected by early voting. (Early voting has existed in Massachusetts since 2016.) It challenges provisions allowing electronic voting through the internet for people with disabilities and overseas military voters, arguing that it makes voting less secure. It also raises concerns about myriad other details of the new law related to residency requirements, the use of check-in and check-out stations, a ban on electioneering near early polling stations, and other provisions.
A motion for a temporary restraining order that accompanies the lawsuit puts the arguments in more traditional legal language and asks a judge to stop the new law from going into effect for the 2022 elections.
Mail-in voting is scheduled to go into effect for the September state primary. Under the new law, Galvin is required to mail out applications for ballots as soon as July. If the MassGOP is successful in obtaining a restraining order, that could upset the tight election schedule. Galvin said he thinks it is unlikely that the suit will be successful, but said he is “anxious to get it resolved.”
Chang-Diaz bows out: Sonia Chang-Diaz discontinues her run for governor and starts campaigning for what she calls “courage” candidates willing to take on the status quo. “I have looked at the numbers every which way and, unfortunately, there is no path that I can responsibly in good faith lead my supporters on which results in me becoming governor this year,” Chang-Diaz said. “That does not mean there is no path to victory for this movement.”
– Chang-Diaz’s withdrawal means Attorney General Maura Healey will face no real opposition in the Democratic primary, although Chang-Diaz’s name will remain on the ballot and she says she will vote for herself. She even says she would debate Healey if the attorney general is up for that.
– Her initial slate of courage candidates includes Raul Fernandez, Vivian Birchall, and Sam Montaño, who are running for state rep seats, and Ricardo Arroyo and Rahsaan Hall, who are running for district attorney. Each of the candidates faces tough primary fights. Read more.
Prison fight: A state consultant recommends moving the female inmates at the badly deteriorated and oversized MCI-Framingham prison into a smaller facility with a greater focus on rehabilitation. The recommendation runs afoul of legislation moving through Beacon Hill barring the construction of new prisons. Read more.
More bad news for T: The subway tunnels under Haymarket Station are shut down after the developer of the Government Center Garage says columns supporting the garage and running through the tunnel area are severely deteriorated. The shutdown means the Orange and Green Lines will no longer run through Haymarket, meaning riders will have to make shuttle bus connections or alternate routes. Read more.
Hiring blitz: The MBTA is ramping up hiring efforts in the subway operations control center, looking to hire at least seven dispatchers who could ease the load there and allow the T to resume full service on the Red, Orange, and Blue Lines. Service was scaled back to Saturday levels this week after the Federal Transit Administration raised concerns about overworked, fatigued dispatchers. Read more.
Rail electrification: The MBTA outlines a hybrid approach to electrification of the commuter rail system and says service is unlikely to start until 2032. Read more.
Suit against Harvard goes forward: The Supreme Judicial Court revives a lawsuit brought by a woman who claims Harvard University caused her emotional distress when she sought information about and the return of nude photographs a Harvard professor took of her slave ancestors in 1850. Read more.
NY gun law overturned: The US Supreme Court strikes down a New York concealed carry law that is similar to statutes in Massachusetts and other states. The court held the Second Amendment does not restrict a person’s ability to carry a loaded gun in public. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni criticizes a civil forfeiture bill that the Senate is on the verge of voting on, arguing that money seized from criminal assets should go to police and prosecutors, not the state’s general fund. (MassLive)
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer says she will voluntarily accept budget changes approved by the City Council, a response to a move by one councilor that shut down debate on the spending plan. Charles Kronick, the councilor who used a parliamentary procedure to end debate, finally broke his silence, saying he took the action because the budget was irresponsible and reckless. (Berkshire Eagle) A Berkshire Eagle editorial laments the irresponsible grandstanding by Kronick and the poisonous politics that led to it.
Boston City Councilor Kendra Lara is criticized after making an anti-Semitic tweet that plays on Jewish stereotypes of money and power. (Boston Globe)
There have been 13 monkeypox cases reported in Massachusetts since mid-May, with six more announced Thursday. (Boston Herald)
The US Senate passes a bipartisan gun violence bill that includes money for mental health services and school safety as well as modest changes related to gun purchases and background checks. (Washington Post)
Gubernatorial candidate Maura Healey pushes a $400 million tax relief program centered around tax credits for children. (Boston Globe)
Some people, including in Massachusetts’ hot housing market, are buying new homes remotely after touring them via video. (USA Today)
Surging demand and tight staffing lead to a volatile air traffic environment, with delays and cancellations becoming commonplace. (Boston Globe)
Roadway deaths in Massachusetts hit an 11-year high and are rising. (State House News Service)
A new report finds a lack of progress in fixing the state’s gas leaks. (Gloucester Daily Times)
Sen. Eric Lesser and environmental activists visit the site of a proposed Eversource gas pipeline in Springfield that is generating controversy. (MassLive)
Parents sue Brigham and Women’s hospital after the remains of their prematurely born baby were discarded with dirty linens. (Boston Globe)
A Worcester teenager who has spent two years under house arrest is sentenced to time served for attempting to throw a Molotov cocktail at the police during the George Floyd protests. (Telegram & Gazette)