SJC to weigh mail-in voting law challenge next week


What better way for a constitutional law scholar to spend the Fourth of July than preparing briefs that could determine the future of a major state expansion of voting rights?

Lawyers for the Massachusetts Republican Party and Secretary of State William Galvin’s office will undoubtedly be deep into their law books this weekend preparing for arguments on whether mail-in voting is consistent with the state’s Constitution.

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Scott Kafker said the full court would consider the party’s request for an injunction to block Galvin from mailing out ballot applications to the more than 4.7 million voters by July 23.

Republican Party Chairman Jim Lyons and others have filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the law signed by Gov. Charlie Baker making voting-by-mail permanent in Massachusetts on the grounds that it violates the state constitution’s allowances for absentee voting.

“Due to the significant time constraints in this matter, and because the complaint raises wide-ranging and novel constitutional challenges to the new election law implicating the fundamental right to vote, I hereby exercise my discretion to reserve and report the matter to the full court for decision,” Kafker wrote in an order issued Thursday, scheduling oral arguments in the case for next Wednesday and setting a deadline for briefs to be filed on July 5.

Voting by mail was first used during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect public health, and became a popular option that resulted in record turnout.

Though the state’s constitution allows for absentee voting for three reasons — a voter is going to be out of town, has a disability, or has a religious-based conflict with Election Day — the legal justification for voting by mail hinged on the argument that the COVID-19 pandemic created a “disability” for all voters to safely participate in elections.

With the COVID-19 emergency lifted, Republicans contend the practice should no longer be considered legal. “We also have significant reasons to believe that mail-in voting is especially vulnerable to fraud,” Lyons said.

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