Pro Bono Lawsuit Against Massachusetts Election Supervisor Spurs Compliance with New Vote-by-Mail Law

In The News
July 28, 2020

Ropes & Gray LLP, representing a group of individual voters and advocacy organizations, successfully concluded their emergency lawsuit against the Massachusetts Secretary of Commonwealth, after the Secretary agreed to comply with a state law requiring him to send mail-in voting applications to registered voters in Massachusetts for the upcoming primary and general elections. 

The dispute stemmed from a COVID-19 pandemic response bill signed by Governor Charlie Baker on July 6. The new law required the Secretary of the Commonwealth to send mail-in ballot applications to all Massachusetts voters by July 15. But, within a day of the bill becoming law, the Secretary announced that he would not do so by the state deadline, citing a lack of necessary postage funding. That statement prompted the emergency petition filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights and Ropes & Gray in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The petition asked the Court to order Galvin's office to comply with the law, and pointed out that the Secretary’s alleged lack of funds was premised on a misreading of federal law.   

Without receiving an application, the plaintiff voters — most of whom have serious underlying medical conditions and limited access to computers or printers at home — would have experienced difficulty requesting ballots and exercising their right to vote without risking life-threatening COVID-19 infection, illness, and death. With Court oversight, the Secretary ultimately identified adequate funding, and accomplished the mailing required by law several days after the deadline had passed, bringing the lawsuit to a successful resolution. 

The Ropes & Gray team that worked on the filing included litigation & enforcement partner Rob Jones (Boston), and litigation & enforcement associate Patrick Roath (Boston), litigation paralegal coordinator Joann Bardis (New York) and senior litigation paralegal Mark Callahan (Boston), and summer associates Kevin Tang, Leo Weissburg and Richard Bernache.