Mass. Voters To Drop Suit After Pols Fund Mail-In Ballot Law

By Brian Dowling
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Law360 (July 17, 2020, 8:18 PM EDT) -- A group of Massachusetts residents and voting rights organizations will drop a lawsuit that sought to enforce a new law requiring mail-in ballot applications to be sent to every voter in the state after legislators agreed to fund the initiative.

During a hearing Friday, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said they expect to dismiss the suit against Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin after the mailings are completed July 21.

The dispute stems from a COVID-19 pandemic response bill signed by Gov. Charlie Baker on July 6. The bill required Galvin to send mail-in ballot applications to all voters by July 15, but his office balked, saying it didn't have the necessary postage funds, estimated at $5 million.

That prompted the emergency petition filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights and pro bono counsel from Ropes & Gray LLP on behalf of the voters and advocates. The petition asked the court to order Galvin's office to comply with the law and find some way to pay for the mailings.

Shortly after the group filed the petition, however, state lawmakers passed a bill handing Galvin the funds.

The secretary's office started sending the forms to voters on Wednesday and expects to have the last batches of applications delivered to the U.S. Post Office by July 20 and 21, Anne Sterman of the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office told Associate Justice Frank M. Gaziano at Friday's hearing.

Lawyers for Civil Rights attorney Oren Sellstrom told Justice Gaziano the petition's filing "does appear to have broken the bureaucratic logjam that was delaying the mailing of these critical materials."

On Wednesday, Galvin's office sent 1.6 million mail-in ballot applications, and on Thursday, 1.5 million more went into the mail, according to Sterman.

On Friday, 400,000 forms were scheduled to be mailed Friday, leaving only the more complex bilingual and trilingual applications to be sent on July 20 and 21. Those applications are required for a dozen cities and towns.

Forms for Boston and Lowell should go out July 20, Sterman said, and the last batch of applications for voters in Chelsea, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lynn, Malden, Quincy, Revere, Southbridge, Springfield and Worcester should be mailed the next day.

The parties will seek to dismiss the suit on Wednesday after the completion of the mailings, Sellstrom told the court.

The petitioners in the suit are Mary Bertin of Boston, Concepción Pacas of Chelsea, Willie Arthur Scott Jr. of Boston, Tu To Trac of Quincy, Noelia Rodriguez of Chelsea, Yi Hui Wei of Quincy and Shu Hong Zhang of Quincy. They are joined in the suit by the voting rights nonprofits Common Cause and MassVOTE.

The petitioners are represented by Oren M. Sellstrom, Laura Maslow-Armand, Sophia Hall and Janelle H. Dempsey of Lawyers for Civil Rights and  Robert G. Jones and Patrick T. Roath of Ropes & Gray LLP.

The state is represented by Anne Sterman and Dennis D'Angelo of the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General.

The case is Bertin et al. v. Galvin et al., case number SJC-2020-520, in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

--Editing by Janice Carter Brown.

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