Governor Charlie Baker this week unleashed the straw man of voter fraud in his latest effort to halt the advance of a bill to grant driver’s licenses to residents without legal immigration status.
In doing so, however, Baker has in effect called into question the competence of his own Registry of Motor Vehicles, not to mention that of election officials around the state.
That’s a lot of collateral damage to rack up in his opposition to a licensing proposal that is the law in at least 16 other states plus the District of Columbia and locally was endorsed by the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police Association.
Baker told reporters Monday that because “we have made the issuance of a driver’s license a vehicle through which people get registered to vote,” under the motor voter act, that if the bill 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 state’s chief election official, Secretary of State Bill Galvin, told the Globe Editorial Board, “That’s simply a false argument.
“This argument is being used nationally by Republicans as it was before the Ohio primary,” he added. “But I just don’t know what planet he’s [Baker] on.”
The bill, which passed the Senate last week as the Work and Family Mobility Act, and earlier passed the House in a slightly different form, would essentially allow noncitizens to obtain a driver’s license by providing two pieces of identification that could include a foreign passport, birth certificate, or marriage certificate.
“I believe it creates a lot of complexity for cities and towns,” Baker insisted, raising the specter of hordes of undocumented immigrants presumably showing up at city halls demanding to vote.
So, perhaps a reality check is in order.
Noncitizens can already get licenses — and the sky hasn’t fallen on local election officials. Meanwhile, expanding the pool of noncitizens who can get licenses could improve the lives of thousands.
“The ability to get behind the wheel and drive to work or take your child to a doctor’s appointment is something that many of us might take for granted,” Senate President Karen Spilka told a press conference last week. “But for many immigrants, it serves as a barrier to being able to put food on the table or care for their families.”
For those in law enforcement who supported the bill it was about those ID requirements and as Lawrence Police Chief Roy Vasque put it, “Law enforcement wants to know who our officers are stopping. And hopefully they stop now that they’re not worried about running from law enforcement because they [will now] have an ID.”
Yes, the Registry does try to register voters, but the license bill as passed also specifies that those without proof of citizenship will not be automatically registered. Baker may not trust his own RMV to get the job done, but since the law wouldn’t take effect until July 1, 2023, perhaps his successor will insist on a department that can handle that simple task.
The implementation of REAL ID on driver’s licenses, which goes into effect in May of 2023 and requires citizens to produce a Social Security number to get a license that can be used for domestic air travel and entry to certain government buildings will create a two-tiered license system to further safeguard the system.
But to follow Baker’s hyperbolic scenario, his mythical undocumented immigrant voter would have to decide to risk actual deportation — according to Galvin the possible penalty for a noncitizen attempting to vote. Provisional ballots come into play if a voter’s name is not on the list of registered voters or listed incorrectly. That ballot isn’t counted if the person is found ineligible to vote.
There may be many things that keep us up at night, but election delays caused by large numbers of illegal votes being cast here in Massachusetts isn’t one of them.
The driver’s license bill was passed by veto proof majorities in both the House and Senate for all the right reasons. It would make an estimated 185,000 undocumented immigrants eligible to learn the rules of the road, to take the tests that would certify that they know those rules and are competent behind the wheel and in doing so that would make the roads safer for all of us.
And it would make a difference in people’s lives, allowing more to join a workforce where they are badly needed.
No amount of gubernatorial obfuscation can change those simple facts of life.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.