BOSTON (State House News Service) — Three days before the Senate plans to debate the bill, Gov. Charlie Baker reiterated his concern that legislation to allow immigrants who are unable to prove lawful presence in Massachusetts to obtain drivers' licenses does not do enough to protect against an ineligible person unlawfully registering to vote.
"I continue to believe that states that have driver privileges cards completely separate the issue of driving with a license from voting," the governor said Monday after a meeting with House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka. "In Massachusetts, a big piece of the way we've organized voter registration is through the issuance and distribution of driver's licenses, and issuing the exact same driver's license to everybody -- whether they're eligible to vote or not -- and not creating some mechanism that makes it possible for town clerk's to engage with the registry as part of that issue, I think is a problem."
The Senate on Thursday plans to take up a bill that would allow so-called undocumented immigrants to apply for a Massachusetts driver's license if they can produce certain papers, like a foreign passport, proving their identity and residence in Massachusetts. The House passed a similar bill in February and included language to clarify that a license applicant who does not provide proof of lawful presence will not be not automatically registered to vote under the automatic voter-registration law.
But Baker previously suggested he does not think the House's language goes far enough and said it "bothered me a lot" when representatives voted down an amendment that would have required the Registry of Motor Vehicles to share information with municipal clerks looking to verify a license holders' eligibility to vote.
"I really think this is an issue we have to make clear. Driver's license is one thing. The right to vote is something else," Baker said in early March.
While Massachusetts has automatic voter registration upon certain interactions with the Registry of Motor Vehicles, MassHealth and the Health Connector, Secretary of State William Galvin's office said the agencies "will not submit names to local election officials of any persons they have determined are not U.S. citizens."
Some non-U.S. citizens who cannot vote are already eligible for driver's licenses in Massachusetts, like green card holders.
By the 5 p.m. Monday deadline, senators had filed 25 amendments to the bill.
Written by Colin Young/SHNS.