Thanks to Christopher for flagging this down: The SJC has made a rather uncomfortable “emergency” decision, in halving the number of signatures needed for some offices; extended deadlines; and required Sec. of Commonwealth Galvin to accept electronic signatures. That’s … a lot for a court ruling.
The justices shared Christopher’s discomfort at the potential of legislating from the bench, but the legislature’s inaction put them in a real bind: Either let something that is clearly unfair and unconstitutional go forward, or get out over their skis vis-a-vis separation of powers.
During those high court arguments, the justices appeared distressed to be addressing a problem that the Legislature has full authority to solve. More than one of the justices pressed the lawyers over whether the House might take up the matter in coming days.
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo has been publicly silent on the issue.
Also, we need to talk about how ridiculously bottle-necked the signature-gathering process is. You can’t just go online and grab a pdf of a candidate’s nomination papers, print it out, sign it and mail it in. From the Secretary of the Commonwealth:
Nomination papers are available from the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth in his Boston, Fall River, and Springfield offices, and may be picked up or requested by telephone or in writing. Nomination papers may also be available in certain city or town halls throughout the Commonwealth. Contact the Elections Division for a full list of locations where nomination papers are available.
So the Markey campaign (e.g.) has had to get the papers from the Sec. of State, and had volunteers mail them out to willing signatories with a self-addressed stamped envelope. Cumbersome, slow, and expensive. Are you kidding me? In the year 2020 you have to do this? A “full list of locations” isn’t even published on the website? I don’t know if this is on Galvin or the legislature, but this needs to be changed: Nomination papers should be freely available, not dispensed from on high “by request”.
This would seem to put the Markey campaign in the clear, which had been mailing out nomination papers to folks in an expensive and cumbersome process. (There may be a silver lining, if the extra work pays off in organizing power in the coming months.)
“The bottom line: as of today, the campaign has, in hand, requests for 20,896 additional nomination sheets. This pace would have seen our campaign accumulate more than 20,000 certified signatures by the original deadline…” John Walsh, Markey’s campaign manager says
— Kendall Karson (@kendallkarson) April 17, 2020
In any event, it’s a relief that our Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court came to the exact opposite conclusion of the US Supreme Court, and ruled that a public emergency does indeed affect questions of equality before the law and enfranchisement. We can avoid the barbaric spectacle in Wisconsin, of people risking their own and their neighbors’ lives to exercise their constitutional right to vote. But now we need universal vote-by-mail, as five other states already do.