Mass. high court hears GOP case challenging mail-in voting

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on Wednesday heard arguments about a new law that allows anyone to vote by mail for any reason.

The state Republican Party contends the law is unconstitutional and could encourage voter fraud.

At issue is the VOTES Act, which was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker. The sweeping election law makes no-excuse mail-in voting permanent while expanding options to vote early, among a number of other changes.

The MassGOP argues the state constitution only allows people to cast absentee ballots in certain circumstances.

Michael Walsh, an attorney for the party, argued early voting should also be banned, even though the state has conducted it for the past eight years.

"Decisions — no matter how wrong, how old or how bad — if they're bad they deserve to be overturned," Walsh said.

Walsh argued that early voting and no-excuse mail-in voting make elections more susceptible to voter fraud, though he acknowledged there was no evidence to back that up.

"We certainly didn't say that in our complaint," he told the justices.

Walsh claimed that the legislature lacked constitutional authority to re-write the state's election laws. But Assistant Attorney General Adam Hornstine urged the justices "to affirm the constitutionality of theVOTES Act," which he said, "expands the rights of voters to participate in upcoming elections."

"The legislature has broad powers to deal with elections," Hornstine said.

The lawsuit challenging the voter rules was filed by Jim Lyons, chairman of the Republican party, and others.

Article 105 of the state constitution explicitly allows absentee voting for three reasons — when a voter is going to be out of town for Election Day, has a disability, or has a religious-based conflict with Election Day. The Republicans challenging the law say those are the only reasons permitted.

Some legal experts, however, argue that mail-in voting is a form of early voting that has been permitted in Massachusetts for eight years, distinct from the type of voting referenced in the Constitution.

The court is expected to issue a decision well ahead of the September primary.

Material from State House News Service was used in this article.


Headshot of Anthony Brooks

Anthony Brooks Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.



More from WBUR

Listen Live