Oct 14, 2022 - Politics

What to know about the Massachusetts driver's license ballot question

Illustration of a pattern of checkmarks that turn into question marks and vice versa, over a red and blue background with a pattern of ballot elements.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Massachusetts passed a law in June to let immigrants without legal status obtain certain driver's licenses. Now, repeal efforts have led to a referendum on the legislation.

Driving the news: Voters will decide on Question 4 at the polls in November. A "yes" vote would preserve the law. A "no" vote would repeal it.

Why it matters: Massachusetts became the 17th state to expand driving privileges to immigrants without legal status, but it's one of the only states where such a law has faced a repeal campaign.

Details: A "yes" vote would let undocumented immigrants apply for a standard driver's license — not the REAL ID license that will soon be required to fly domestically and enter certain federal buildings.

  • They would need to provide two forms of ID. One could be a valid, unexpired foreign passport or consular ID, and the other could be a birth certificate, national foreign ID card, or a U.S. marriage or divorce decree or other document, per the legislation.

Like everyone else, those applicants would need to pass a driving test to get the license and obtain car insurance to register a vehicle.

The law that was passed in June after the House and Senate overrode Gov. Charlie Baker's veto prohibits the Registry of Motor Vehicles from asking about an applicant's immigration status.

  • Yes, but: It also requires the state to create regulations that stop anyone who gets a license without showing proof of citizenship from automatically being registered to vote.

What they're saying: "This is profound for [undocumented immigrants] given that immigrant communities are now going to be able to do things that we all take for granted, simple things such as being able to drive your kids to school, going to the doctor, going to the grocery store," says Roxana Rivera, vice president of 32BJ SEIU and co-chair of the Driving Families Forward coalition.

  • Before the law passed, the coalition amassed support from district attorneys, police chiefs and transportation experts who said they felt it would make roads safer.

The other side: Opponents of the law say voting "no" ensures that immigrants without legal status aren't rewarded for being in the country without permission.

  • "We think that granting Massachusetts driver's licenses to illegal immigrants is reckless, and radical incentives like this will only exacerbate the problem of illegal immigration rather than fix it," MassGOP chair Jim Lyons said in a recent press release.

Some opponents, such as Secretary of State candidate Rayla Campbell, have falsely claimed that the law allows immigrants without legal status to vote illegally in Massachusetts.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Boston.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Boston stories


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Boston.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more