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Massachusetts’ highest court upholds new mail-in voting law

The new law makes so-called “no excuse” mail-in ballots and early voting permanent fixtures in Massachusetts elections.

A voter casts their ballot at a vote by mail dropbox at Boston City Hall in Boston, Massachusetts. Scott Eisen/Bloomberg


BOSTON (AP) — 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.

2022 elections

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.

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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.

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Lawyers for Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, a Democrat whose office oversees elections, argued the new law is appropriate, saying under the state constitution, the Legislature has broad powers to regulate elections and is not as narrowly confined as Republicans suggest.

Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Jim Lyons had expressed hope that the court would agree with the party when the lawsuit was filed last month.

“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 at the time.

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

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