Woburn clerk wants Healey to review early voting law's constitutionality


BOSTON >> With early voting set to begin for the first time in Massachusetts in 35 days, the city clerk in Woburn wants Attorney General Maura Healey to weigh in on the law's constitutionality, questioning a system that he says creates two classes of voters.

Woburn City Clerk William Campbell wrote to Healey last Tuesday asking for an official review of the law that would allow voters to begin casting ballots up to 11 business days before the Nov. 8 general election.

Secretary of State William Galvin, who oversees state elections, was copied on the letter, but so far neither have formally responded. Campbell ran unsuccessfully against Galvin for secretary of state in 2010 as a Republican, and has run once before for state representative.

Also a lawyer and past president of the Massachusetts City Clerks Association, Campbell worries that without clarity on the issue the results of the election "can be challenged due to statutory procedures which are in conflict with constitutional restrictions."

A spokeswoman for the attorney general confirmed receipt of Campbell's letter and said it was being reviewed, but declined further comment.

Early voting, which was approved as part of a package of election law reforms in 2014, is being added this cycle to absentee voting, which already allows voters to cast ballots ahead of an election should an absence from their home city, a disability, or a religious belief prevent them from voting on the prescribed day.

Campbell noted in his letter that the constitution prescribes that elections for members of the Governor's Council, senators and representatives shall be held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Campbell posited in his letter that based on narrow exemptions in the constitution to voting on election day the only way early voting could be considered legitimate under the constitution would be an interpretation that each day of the early voting period is an election day.

While the clerk said such an interpretation would require ignoring the very clear constitutional guidance on the election calendar, it would also open the door to absentee voting for voters who meet any of the criteria on any one of the 11 business days during the early voting period.

Furthermore, because absentee voters are allowed to change their vote if they ultimately show up at the polls on election day and early voters would not have the same luxury, Campbell said the absentee ballot amendments and the early voting law "treat similarly situated voters differently."

"If there is a revelation or new information that comes to the attention of the absentee voter, often referred to as an 'October surprise,' he has the opportunity to make arrangements to appear at the polls on election day and change his vote. The early voter, once she hands her ballot to the local election official, is prohibited from changing her vote. This creates a second class voter and treats similarly situated voters differently," Campbell wrote.

Campbell's airing of concerns that he believes could jeopardize the "legitimacy of any election conducted using these early voting provisions" comes as communities around the state are finalizing preparations for early voting.

Galvin could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon, but plans a press conference Tuesday morning at the State House to discuss election preparations.

While Galvin said as recently as two weeks ago some communities were balking at having to pay to open polling locations for early voting, Campbell said Woburn would "absolutely be ready" for early voting if nothing changes between now and Oct. 24.

"However, with so much talk about rigged elections and hacked elections, this is an issue that should be definitively determined to preserve the integrity of the election results in Massachusetts," he told the News Service in an email.


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