Massachusetts Republicans are backing a long-shot effort to undo a new law that allows residents without legal immigration status to get driver’s licenses.
Supported by the state party chairman and a leading GOP candidate for governor, a state committee member Monday morning filed paperwork to begin the process of putting a question on November’s ballot that would ask voters to repeal the measure.
Milford resident Maureen Maloney, whose son was killed a decade ago by a drunk driver who was in the United States without legal status, is chairing the new committee called Fair And Secure Massachusetts.
But with 21 weeks until Election Day and the state Republican Party strapped for cash and volunteers, some say the effort is far-fetched.
In order to begin the process of getting a question on the ballot, 10 registered voters would have to submit a petition, which they may do the 30th day after a law is enacted. In this case, that would be July 9.
Then, the committee would have to collect 40,120 signatures by Sept. 7. Assuming they have enough certified signatures, the question would make it onto the November 2022 ballot.
“It seems unlikely they could muster the resources,” said Rob Gray, a longtime Republican operative who ran the successful 2020 automotive “right-to-repair” initiative.
“It’s a high hurdle in a short amount of time,” Gray said, citing the high cost of paid signature gatherers. “And it’s a heavy organizational challenge.”
Others, however, argue that keeping driver’s licenses out of the hands of undocumented residents is a winning issue that will get the needed support.
Last Wednesday, after the Massachusetts House voted to override Governor Charlie Baker’s veto of the Work and Family Mobility Act, GOP gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl reached out to Maloney, a member of the GOP state committee, and asked her to lead a recall effort .
Maloney has been outspoken on such legislation in the past, and says she plans to use “grass-roots” signature gatherers over a paid gathering firm, she said.
“I am grateful for [Diehl] for taking the lead on this,” said Maloney, who has taken the national stage alongside Donald Trump during speeches on immigration policy. “This is an issue people feel strongly about. It has to be something that resonates with them. I think we will easily get the required signatures.”
Come July 2023, people without legal immigration status will be able to 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.
Shortly after the Senate’s override vote, Diehl and his running mate, Leah Allen, published a statement expressing their support for a ballot question to repeal the law.
“This bill is a bad bill,” Diehl said in a statement. “Leah and I will not sit by idly and watch the consequences of this bill take away the safety and democratic rights of Massachusetts residents.”
At the time, the campaign did not respond to questions as to whether they plan to actually collect signatures to get a question on the ballot. On Monday, a spokeswoman said there will be a separate ballot committee chaired by Maloney, and that “Geoff will be supportive of their efforts to get this issue on November’s ballot.”
In 2014, Diehl helped lead a successful ballot campaign that repealed part of a 2013 law that created increases in the state gas tax tied to the rate of inflation.
A spokeswoman for Diehl’s primary opponent, Wrentham businessman Chris Doughty, said his campaign also supports the effort.
According to state campaign finance law, a candidate for office can show support or opposition to a ballot question, contribute to a ballot question committee, or even chair a ballot question committee themselves.
Massachusetts Republican Party chairman Jim Lyons said he believes there is the infrastructure and the support among Republican and unenrolled voters to run a successful ballot measure, saying the referendum process “gives the voters an opportunity to have their voices be heard.”
“The radical Democrats are not listening,” Lyons told the Globe in an interview.
Though the measure got broad support from Democratic lawmakers, a recent Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll of Massachusetts residents found that a narrow plurality of respondents — about 47 percent — opposed the legislation. About 46 percent were in favor, and 7 percent undecided.
State Representative Shawn Dooley, a Republican who voted against the bill when it came before his chamber, said he believes voters should be able to vote to recall the new law.
However, the party “doesn’t have any money,” said Dooley, who unsuccessfully challenged Lyons last year for the chairmanship.
“If [the Massachusetts Republican Party] is who is pulling it off, I probably have less confidence that it will happen, he said.
The current price for paid signature gathering, depending on the vendor, ranges from $4 to $8 a signature, said Gray, the strategist. While a recall petition requires 40,120 signatures to get on the ballot this year, about 55,000 would need to be collected to account for signature sheets with incorrect addresses, stray marks, or any other number of disqualifiers, he said. The whole process could take about three months and nearly half a million dollars.
“Many underestimate the effort required and overestimate how many signatures they can produce using volunteers,” Gray said. “It’s not cheap.”
At the State House Monday, Baker said he “wasn’t familiar” with the timeline for getting a question on this year’s ballot, but that he stood by his rationale for vetoing the law. He said there is “a ton of work” that now has to be done to create procedures and train Registry of Motor Vehicles on how to identify and verify foreign documents.
“If somebody can collect the signatures and put a question before the voters, then the voters get a shot at it,” Baker told reporters. “I don’t know if you could do this for this year’s election.”
“Certainly if it’s part of our ballot initiative process, that is a concern,” Senate president Karen E. Spilka told reporters Monday ahead of a ceremonial signing of the bill.
An hour after Baker and the Senate president spoke to reporters, Spilka and House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano signed Baker’s veto parchment in a ceremony packed with supporters and advocates in the state library.
State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a Pittsfield Democrat who sponsored the bill in her chamber, said she would ask those who want to repeal the law: “Would you like to see 800 to 1,000 less hit-and-runs in Massachusetts? Then maybe you should rethink whether you would like to reverse this policy.”
Matt Stout of the Globe staff contributed to this report.