Mass. Justices Say GOP Hopeful Followed Virus Ballot Rules

By Chris Villani
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Law360 (July 13, 2020, 8:41 PM EDT) -- The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said Monday it would allow a Republican congressional candidate to be placed on the ballot, finding that she had properly gathered electronic signatures under guidance the court laid out for the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a two-page order signed by the SJC's clerk, Fran Kenneally, the court found Helen Brady's use of a signature-gathering software did not run afoul of its holding in Goldstein et al. v. Galvin, which set out how candidates could get ballot nomination papers signed electronically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Following briefing and oral argument, the court concludes that the electronic signature gathering process utilized by Brady complied in substance with the material requirements of Goldstein," according to the order.

The case proceeded on a rapid timeline because of a federal deadline requiring Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin to finalize the state primary ballot by Tuesday.

The SJC vacated a decision by the State Ballot Law Commission, which had nixed Brady from the ballot in June, and said it would explain its rationale in an opinion to be released at a later date.

A representative for Galvin, a Democrat who oversees elections in the state, said "now that the SJC has issued their ruling, we will be moving forward with the printing of the 9th Congressional District Republican ballots with Helen Brady's name on them."

Brady told Law360 Monday she was pleased with the decision, deriding the commission and Galvin for a "partisan maneuver" that led to the litigation. 

"The SJC stopped the Secretary of State from doing the wrong thing," Brady said, calling the ruling a victory for her and every registered voter in Massachusetts. "The SJC has better things to do than tell the Secretary of State how to do his job. If you read Goldstein you would know I followed the rules. This was a partisan maneuver that the SJC was not fooled by."

Brady is seeking to unseat Democratic incumbent Bill Keating in a district that encompasses Southeastern Massachusetts as well as Cape Cod and the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. The district is the least Democratic in a state in which every member of the congressional delegation is a Democrat, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index.

The state's top court hearing oral arguments in Brady's appeal of the SBLC decision on Friday focusing on whether Brady's software — which collected 1,066 voters' signatures individually then merged them onto nomination papers — was a substantial enough error to warrant keeping her name off the ballot.

The Goldstein decision, and later guidance from the Secretary of the Commonwealth's Office, envisioned that the electronic signatures would be affixed to the document, and then campaigns would send that same document to local elections officials.

Leon Brathwaite II, a registered voter in Brady's district and official with the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee, filed a challenge to Brady's use of the software. The Massachusetts Democratic Party intervened in the appeal.

During oral arguments, Brady's attorney Christopher Kenney of Kenney & Sams PC said many other campaigns used the same software Brady did, and that the court shouldn't consider the State Ballot Law Commission's selective enforcement of the letter of the law against Brady because it ignored the others.

Representatives for MassDems did not respond immediately to a message left seeking comment Monday afternoon.

Brady is represented by Christopher Kenney of Kenney & Sams PC.

The Secretary of State and the State Ballot Law Commission is represented by Elizabeth Kaplan of the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office.

Brathwaite II and the Massachusetts Democratic Party are represented by Gerald A. McDonough.

The case is Brady v. State Ballot Law Commission et al., case number SJC-12979, in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

--Additional reporting by Brian Dowling. Editing by Amy Rowe.

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