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Charlie Baker warns driver’s license bill would lead to ‘huge numbers of provisional votes’

Governor Charlie Baker pictured here.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker indicated Monday he fears that allowing residents without legal immigration status to get driver’s licenses could lead to illegal voting in Massachusetts elections.

“My major concern all along is that we have made the issuance of a driver’s license a vehicle through which people get registered to vote,” Baker said Monday, referencing the state’s automatic voter registration law. “If it passes, we will have huge numbers of provisional votes which will then make it harder for people to figure out who actually won elections.”

The second-term Republican’s assertion about the bill — versions of which have passed the state House and Senate by veto-proof margins — was rejected by the state’s top voting official.

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It is against the law for noncitizens to vote in state and federal elections, and both versions of the the bill clarify noncitizens would not be registered under a current state law that registers those of voting age who seek driver’s license.

“How the governor manages to link that to the license issue, I am confused and baffled,” Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin told the Globe Monday. “I do think that the governor in his comments and the Republicans in general in their comments on this issue have tried to raise the specter that this will allow these persons to vote. Nothing could be further from the truth . . . he is making this rhetorical assertion that there are going to be people voting, which they are not.”

In Massachusetts, a voter can fill out a provisional ballot if their name is not on the list where they believe they are registered to vote, if they find that they are listed incorrectly, or if they are unable to provide proof of identification when asked.

The ballots are sealed and kept separate from others until the voter’s eligibility can be determined. The ballots are not counted unless that voter is, in fact, found to be properly registered. More often than not, they are found ineligible and the ballots are destroyed without being inspected, said Galvin, who serves as the state’s top election official.

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The Massachusetts Senate last week passed the bill, dubbed the “Work and Family Mobility Act,” with enough votes to override a possible veto from the governor. The House passed a similar bill with a similar margin earlier this year.

If the bill becomes law, people without legal immigration status could obtain a driver’s license by providing two documents that prove their identity, such as a foreign passport and birth certificate or a passport and a marriage certificate.

Throughout the debate, Baker has said that the legislation doesn’t go far enough to ensure that undocumented residents don’t unlawfully register to vote. He added Monday that he thinks allowing for noncitizens to get driver’s licenses complicates the election duties handled by city and town clerks.

The legislation clarifies that people who do not have proof of lawful presence will not automatically be registered to vote under a current state law that registers those seeking driver’s licenses who are of voting age, but senators rejected amendments from Republican members that would create a new license type with different requirements and require that the license to say “not eligible to vote” written in “bold text.”

Galvin had also submitted an amendment to help clear up one of Baker’s concerns. Galvin’s language would have allowed for his office to review information from the Registry of Motor Vehicles for the purposes of verifying voter registration. The amendment, which was filed by Democratic Senator John F. Keenan, was withdrawn.

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Because the Senate’s version was slightly different, the driver’s license legislation will have to be reconciled before final votes to send them to Baker’s desk. Once he receives the bill, he can sign it, veto it, make amendments to it, and send it back to the Legislature, or do nothing and allow it to become law. As both versions of the bill were passed, the law would take effect on July 1, 2023.

Baker declined Monday to comment on his plan if the bill lands on his desk.

“I don’t do hypotheticals when it comes to legislation,” he said. “The House and Senate bills aren’t that different, but they are different enough that they will have to work through some of those before they decide what they are going to send to us.”

Senator Brendan P. Crighton, who sponsored his chamber’s version of the legislation, dismissed the governor’s fears Monday, citing the 16 other states and Washington, D.C., who have similar laws and no reported instances of widespread voter fraud as a result.

“We hear a new concern from the governor every day of the week at this point,” Crighton, a Lynn Democrat said. “The governor is living in a fantasy world if he thinks [voter fraud] will happen in Massachusetts.”

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Samantha J. Gross can be reached at samantha.gross@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @samanthajgross.