After lawmakers passed an immigrant driver’s license law in June, there’s a proposal to strike it down in the Nov. 8 statewide election.
Ballot Question 4, as it will be presented on Election Day, asks voters whether they would keep or repeal that new law which allows anyone to test and qualify for a driver’s license, including undocumented immigrants.
A “yes” vote, supported by a large majority of law enforcement agencies and immigration rights groups, will keep the law. A “no” vote, supported by Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl, will repeal it.
This direct appeal to voters, known as a referendum petition, will reach a binding outcome, a spokesperson for the Attorney General confirmed. That means whatever the voters decide becomes law, which is different from other types of ballot petitions or questions that act more like a poll or recommendation.
The current law passed in June after lawmakers in the House and Senate successfully overrode a veto from Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. It is set to take effect in July of 2023. Both the state Senate (80%) and House (76%) voted overwhelmingly in its favor, despite the governor’s concerns about verifying the identity of immigrants, which he said “significantly increases the risk that noncitizens will be registered to vote.”
“You do not use a driver’s license to register to vote,” said Debra O’Malley, a spokesperson for Secretary of State William Galvin. “The only reason your driver’s license is involved at all is to use your electronic signature,” she continued.
“We already have people who are not citizens who get driver’s licenses through the RMV,” O’Malley said, citing residents who hold green cards or visas. “They already block [these cases] from having [their] information sent through for voter registration. That is an existing feature of the system that wouldn’t need to be changed.”
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Many advocates of the law (those who would vote “yes”) say that election fraud concerns are a distraction.
“This is a safety issue,” said Helena DaSilva Hughes, president of the Immigrants Assistance Center in New Bedford, who explained that licenses would mean administering road tests and requiring insurance for more drivers.
“When you have … law enforcement testifying in favor, that speaks volumes,” she said.
The Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police, which represents every city with more than 40,000 residents (including Fall River and New Bedford), unanimously supported a “yes” vote, according to Frank Soults, of Safe Roads For Massachusetts, an organization supporting the measure.
“It makes the lives of our police officers easier,” New Bedford Police Chief Paul Oliveira previously told The Light. Research compiled by the non-partisan Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center confirmed this sentiment by looking at states where similar laws were implemented, and it found that “allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain state driver’s licenses would improve law enforcement efficiency.”
“The evidence strongly suggests that if Massachusetts granted licenses to eligible drivers without status it may decrease crime and would not increase it,” said another finding.
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Maureen Maloney is the leading voice for repealing the law (voting “no” on the ballot question). She took up the cause in 2011 after her son was killed in a crash by an unlicensed and undocumented immigrant. She has said that stronger deportation laws, not more inclusive licensing, are the solution to the problem.
“It’s rewarding people for being in the country illegally,” Maloney told The Light. “It incentivizes illegal aliens to come to Massachusetts.”
A central concern for Maloney and her organization campaigning to repeal the law, called Fair and Secure Massachusetts, is the capacity of the RMV. “The record of the RMV is riddled with scandals,” she said.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Diehl has been one of the strongest advocates for repealing the law. “He agrees with Governor Baker that it’s a bad law,” said Amanda Orlando, Diehl’s campaign manager.
Orlando said that the law gives more mobility to “people here for illegitimate reasons — people who are here to break more of our laws.”
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Diehl helped organize a campaign to include this referendum petition on the ballot, which ultimately attracted more than 100,000 signatures, much more than the required 40,000. The Diehl campaign says these efforts are part of a strategy to energize their base.
“I think that people who are concerned about supporting the law and keeping the state safe are likely to support Geoff Diehl,” said Orlando.
Massachusetts would be the 18th state to enact a law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. The earliest was Washington state, which passed its measure in 1993. In Rhode Island, the most recent state to pass legislation, Democratic state Rep. Karen Alzate, who chairs the Black and Latino caucus, sponsored the law for its safety benefits.
Info about Question 4 missing from printed voter guide
Don’t expect to find a succinct description of Question 4 in the printed “Information for Voters” booklet that arrives via U.S. mail.
Because this ballot petition was submitted after the July 2022 deadline for inclusion in the printed booklet, Question 4 is not listed, according to the Secretary of State’s website.
The question will, however, be listed on all Nov. 8 State Election ballots as Question #4.
And you can find additional information about Question 4 online.
“If I get into an accident I’m expecting the other person to have insurance,” Alzate said. “People should know the laws of driving in our state — what they should do and shouldn’t do.”
Alzate said she expects that insurance will become more affordable as more drivers become insured, and the Mass Budget research agreed, finding “dramatic drops” in the rates of uninsured drivers after the passage of these laws in other states, which could lead to modest savings for drivers.
In California, researchers compiled evidence that hit-and-run accidents decreased after that state’s version of the law passed in 2017. Immigration experts, like DaSilva Hughes, say that undocumented individuals are discouraged from staying at the scene of an accident when they fear interactions with police. Having official licenses and insurance information encourages them to stay at the scene.
“We know that people are driving to work or out of town,” DaSilva Hughes said. She said she believes that licensing these drivers benefits everyone, because “they’re going to have to go through a test like all of us.”
Beyond the driving test and insurance requirements, all applicants for a license who are undocumented will have to provide other paperwork from each of the following categories, according to the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s website:
(1) a valid unexpired foreign passport or a valid unexpired Consular Identification document;
(2) a valid unexpired driver’s license from any United States state or territory, an original or certified copy of a birth certificate, a valid unexpired foreign national identification card, a valid unexpired foreign driver’s license, or a marriage certificate or divorce decree issued by any state or territory of the United States.
At least one of the documents presented by an applicant must include a photograph and one must include a date of birth. Any documents not in English must be accompanied by a certified translation.
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