After facing all possible hurdles, the law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses will stand. Voters said “yes” on Ballot Question 4, the referendum to uphold a law that had already overcome a veto from outgoing Gov. Charlie Baker. Beginning in July 2023, all Massachusetts residents can obtain a license if they pass a road test and provide appropriate documentation.
The measure passed a few minutes past noon on Wednesday after a long night of vote-counting had extended into the next day. Massachusetts is the 18th state in the country with a similar law.
Roxana Rivera and Lenita Reason, co-chairs of the Yes On 4 for Safer Roads campaign, issued a joint statement. “Our Commonwealth will now have safer roads, and our immigrant families will safely be able to drive to work, drop their kids off at school, and go to medical appointments.”
The New Bedford Light provides in-depth analyses of the Nov. 8 elections and what lies ahead after voters made their voices heard.
Most of the South Coast voted to repeal the law, including every city and town in Bristol County. In New Bedford, a slim majority (50.9%) voted “no,” despite local immigrant’s groups — such as Movimiento Cosecha – asking legislators for action.
In May, the Legislature approved the law before Gov. Baker vetoed the measure, citing a risk that noncitizens could be registered to vote. Both the House and Senate overrode the governor’s veto, but opponents — backed by Republican candidate for governor Geoff Diehl — gathered enough signatures over the summer to put the issue to voters as a ballot question.
Much of the opposition to the law cited voter registration concerns or unfair rewards for undocumented immigrants. The Secretary of State’s office has said that there is no risk for voter fraud, as the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) already provides licenses to documented immigrants who cannot vote, like those holding green cards or visas.
Maureen Maloney, who led the campaign to repeal the law, said that the ballot question made legislators more accountable. “If our efforts were not successful in placing this repeal proposal on the ballot, virtually no one from the public would be aware of the Legislature’s law.” She said her efforts to repeal the law would continue.
New Bedford and Bristol County numbers show a sharp division on the issue, with all 20 communities in the county voting against the law.
The ward totals released in New Bedford did not include some mail-in or early voting ballots, but according to these early numbers Ward 4 (the downtown neighborhood) was the only area that offered strong support. In four of the city’s six wards voters said “no,” including in the Far North End where more than 60% were opposed.
Helena DaSilva Hughes, president of the Immigrants Assistance Center, was not surprised by the local results. “New Bedford is very divided politically,” she said. "Even in a city that's extremely diverse, within the population there are some people that are anti-immigrant."
Before statewide results were finalized on Wednesday morning, DaSilva Hughes said people in the immigrant community were nervous. However, overwhelming support for the law in Boston (70.8%) and Cambridge (84.6%), among other urban centers in Eastern Mass., helped secure its passage.
Law enforcement in New Bedford and across the state provided crucial endorsements during the campaign.
|HOW NEW BEDFORD VOTED ON QUESTION 4|
|Results are unofficial until certified|
|Ward totals include votes cast on Tuesday, Nov. 8|
|Totals include mail-in votes and early voting counted so far.|
"It makes the lives of our police officers easier,” New Bedford Police Chief Paul Oliveira previously told The Light. The Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police unanimously supported the law, saying that when drivers have proper state-issued identification, traffic stops become safer and more efficient.
Donations for the campaign to uphold the law dwarfed funds from the opposition. According to the latest filings from the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF), more than $2.3 million was raised by the group supporting the measure, or more than 15 times the amount gathered by those hoping for repeal. In just two weeks in October, supporters raised more than $900,000.
In July 2023, when the law takes effect, 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 State’s website:
- A valid unexpired foreign passport or a valid unexpired Consular Identification document.
- 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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