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After Democratic primary victory, William Galvin is poised to win 8th term as Mass. secretary of state

Secretary of State William Galvin speaks during a press conference at the State House in September. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Secretary of State William Galvin speaks during a press conference at the State House in September. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

William Galvin, the long-serving secretary of the commonwealth, fended off a primary challenge from fellow Democrat Tanisha Sullivan, and is now on track to win an unprecedented eighth term in office, according to the Associated Press.

Galvin, who will face Republican Rayla Campbell in November, is heavily favored to win in deep blue Massachusetts. The last time a Republican won the office was in 1946.

In his primary campaign, Galvin ran as a champion of expanding voting rights. At the start of the pandemic, he advocated for no-excuse mail-in voting and then pushed to make it permanent. The change played a role in Massachusetts recording its highest voter turnout in decades.

During a WBUR debate in August, Galvin said his record led to higher voter turnout and an expanded vote-by-mail program "that is putting democracy in the hands of tens of thousands of Massachusetts voters." He claimed that the New York Times reported the state's election work could be a potential model for the nation, despite some challenges.

But Tanisha Sullivan, a civil rights attorney who leads the Boston chapter of the NAACP, argued Galvin has been in office too long, and has done too little to further voting rights.

"When it comes to voting rights, you better believe I'm fighting for more, because here in Massachusetts, we are not leading," Sullivan told Democratic delegates at the state convention in Worcester, in June.

Tanisha Sullivan, President of the NAACP Boston Chapter and William Galvin, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts at WBUR for a Massachusetts Secretary of State Democratic Primary Debate on Radio Boston. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Tanisha Sullivan, President of the NAACP's Boston chapter and Secretary of State Bill Galvin at WBUR for a Democratic primary debate on Radio Boston. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Sullivan, 48, who has never held political office, cast herself as an agent of change.  She argued that it took a pandemic for the state to institute mail-in-voting, while other states did it long ago. And she noted Massachusetts still hasn't approved election-day registration, which Maine adopted in 1973, blaming the incumbent, who is 71, for the delay.

"Bill Galvin has been in office for over a quarter of a century; if he could not get it done before, why should we believe that he can get it done now?" she asked at the WBUR debate.

For his part, Galvin argued that he supports election-day registration but the state legislature rejected it.

Sullivan, who was relatively unknown across the state, faced a challenge running against a much better known incumbent who has served as secretary of the commonwealth since 1995. Prior to that, from 1975 until 1991, Galvin was a state representative, when he became known as "The Prince of Darkness" because he often worked late into the night, cutting legislative deals behind closed doors.

That long record gave Galvin a big advantage, according to Tatishe Nteta, associate professor of political science and director of the UMass poll: "It's a really difficult set of obstacles to try and unseat an incumbent who most people would say has done a relatively good job in the position," Nteta said, even though he believes Sullivan raised valid concerns about lower voter turnout in certain communities.

Sullivan was hoping to become the first woman and the first Black person to be secretary of the commonwealth. She was the choice of Democratic delegates at the party's state convention in June. But just as he did four years ago, when he defeated Josh Zakim, who won his party's endorsement, Galvin beat back the challenge.

Galvin, who is white, now faces the Republican, Campbell, who also hopes to become the first Black woman to hold the office. Campbell is a conservative firebrand who opposed the recent expansion of mail-in voting and has raised doubts about the integrity of the 2020 election.

Related:

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

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