This election day, Massachusetts voters will decide the fate of a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. On November 8, Question 4 will ask voters to either accept or reject the Work and Family Mobility Act, a state law passed in June that would allow Massachusetts residents to apply for a driver’s license beginning in July 2023.
State Representatives Christine Barber, Patricia Jehlen, Paul Donato, Sean Garballey, Mike Connolly and Erika Uyterhoeven – representing Somerville, Medford and West Medford – have publicly voted in favor of a “yes” vote that would endorse the Work and Family Mobility Act.
“That was my bill,” Barber told the Daily. “I was a sponsor, worked on it for about four years… It signed into law in June. Indeed, the governor vetoed it and we overrode the veto in the House and Senate.”
Although the law passed the Massachusetts state legislature, activist group Fair and Secure MA pushed for the law to be put to a referendum. The group’s website claims Question 4 will increase undocumented immigration into the state and increase the likelihood of voter fraud.
Uyterhoeven MP, representing part of Somerville, described the overwhelming support for a ‘yes’ vote from her constituents.
“I’ve knocked on thousands of doors and spoken to hundreds of my constituents about this election issue. I have yet to meet a constituent who plans to vote no on question 4,” she wrote in an email to the Daily.
Barber explained that the biggest surprise to Massachusetts voters was that the question was put on the ballot.
“People don’t know it’s on the ballot because it was a last-minute addition,” Barber said. “Once people know it’s on the ballot, they support it, especially when they hear about it from a public safety perspective.”
A recent UMass Amherst/WCVB poll found that 51% of voters plan to vote “yes” on question 4, with 39% wanting to vote “no” and 10% undecided.
Among opponents of the bill are Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl; his opponent Maura Healey supports the bill.
in a (n op ed for The Somerville Times, Barber, Jehlen, Donato, Garballey, Connolly and Uyterhoeven underlined the importance of the law to public safety and the support it has received from local law enforcement.
“Yes on 4 has overwhelming support from law enforcement including the Somerville and Medford Police Chiefs, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and Sheriff Peter Koutoujian,” they wrote in the comment. “They understand that our streets are safer with more licensed drivers … and ensure that every driver in Massachusetts meets our state’s testing, training and insurance requirements.”
The op-ed cites the passing of similar legislation by 16 other states, including Connecticut, New York and Vermont.
“We’ve seen impressive results, including a 9% reduction in hit-and-run accidents in Connecticut and an 80% reduction in the rate of uninsured drivers in Utah,” the comment reads. “With more insured drivers on the road, the cost of auto insurance will go down for all drivers.”
In addition to improvements in public safety, the op-ed cites an estimated $11 million expansion of the state economy in the first three years of the law’s implementation through taxes and royalties and vehicle registration and inspection.
Barber pointed out that since the law will not come into force until next year, there is time to plan some of the logistics of its implementation. “People don’t actually get their licenses until July 2023, and that’s because there are things that [Registry of Motor Vehicles] gotta do to get ready,” she said.
Mark Lannigan, President of the Tufts Democrats and a member of the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee, said Question 4 relates to immigrant justice. He pointed out that the recent transport of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is an example of increasing national attention to immigrant rights.
“There’s a lot of bureaucratic red tape that people go through all the time that need IDs, and it’s a more valid form of ID…to have a driver’s license,” Lannigan said. “People have to get seats. They should have access to a car if they need one.”
Rep. Barber cited beliefs about federal immigration policy as the primary reason for rejecting a “yes” vote.
“There are some who talk about federal immigration policy and what I’m saying is that this isn’t about that [that]’ said Barber. “There are many challenges to federal immigration policy, [but] This is really about the role of the state, who drives and who doesn’t. That is state policy.”
The Center for State Policy Analysis at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life published a report in October on the potential impact and implications of Question 4. The report, authored by Evan Horowitz, executive director of cSPA, concluded that the existence of the voting question could increase the number of law-abiding drivers and “offer new legitimacy to unauthorized immigrants “. However, the law could also pose a risk to undocumented immigrants if a federal agency requests RMV records to trace them.
“Question 4 lets voters decide where driver’s licenses fit into this broader picture by weighing issues such as the safety of our transportation system and the impact it will have on the daily lives of immigrants,” the cSPA report states.