Most Massachusetts voters support preserving a new law that will soon allow residents without legal immigration status to obtain driver’s licenses, despite a GOP-led effort to repeal it, a new poll found.
A majority of registered voters — 58 percent — say they support preserving the new law, while 34 percent would vote to repeal it, according to a new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll. About 8 percent were unsure.
The law was enacted last month after Massachusetts legislators voted to override a veto from Governor Charlie Baker, who argued that the proposal could threaten election security. The law, which goes into effect next summer, allows people without legal immigration status 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.
The July poll result deviates from an April Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll of Massachusetts residents, which found that a narrow plurality of respondents — about 47 percent — opposed what was then legislation that would give driver’s licenses to undocumented residents. About 46 percent were in favor, and 7 percent undecided.
People feel more comfortable with an idea once it’s already become law, said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which conducted the poll.
“This has happened with other national firsts, like health care, gay rights, and so on,” he said. “Once you have a law enacted, there is a segment of the population that says, ‘I don’t want to change anything, I don’t want to repeal it.’”
Ty Pollock, a 25-year-old registered Democrat from Lowell who uses they/them pronouns, said since the law is already on the books, it should stay that way.
“It doesn’t seem right to take it away from them,” they said. “It doesn’t feel like you should deny someone access the ability to get around easily.”
In putting the bill into law last month, Massachusetts joined 16 other states and the District of Columbia as jurisdictions that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Shortly after the law was enacted, a member of the Republican state committee filed paperwork to begin the process of putting a question on November’s ballot that would ask voters to repeal the measure.
The Suffolk/Globe poll, conducted over four days last week, carried a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.1 percentage points among registered voters.
The 24-point spread between those who support the law and those want to repeal it, as well as the low undecided population, is notable, Paleologos, the pollster, said, noting that those making the argument to repeal the law “are going to have to make a compelling argument that doesn’t offend people.”
Among the 569 voters polled, those who supported preserving the law leaned much younger, slightly more female, and far more Democratic than those who supported repealing the law.
For poll respondent Greg Wong, who commutes to Boston from Belmont for his job at a consulting company, driving is a separate issue from immigration policy. He thinks the roads are safer when drivers are trained, which is why he backs the new law.
“We shouldn’t prevent people from getting driver’s licenses,” Wong, 44, said. “People are going to drive regardless. I prefer they do it with some basic learning of how to drive in the US . . . from a safety perspective, that is what it comes down to.”
Poll respondents who support repealing the law argued that driving is not a right, but a privilege that should be reserved for people in the country with legal immigration status.
“If you give them citizen privileges when they are violating the conditions for citizenship, then you are basically saying ‘you don’t have to be a citizen,’” said Alex Blumenstiel, an 82-year-old retired federal transportation employee from Newton. “What does that mean for every other law? Can they break those rules as well? That is the implication.”
Elizabeth Kenrick, 75, of Belmont, said she also views driving as a privilege. She is a registered independent who “usually votes Democrat,” and feels that the new law is “not a good idea.”
“It should be a requirement that you’re a citizen before you can get a driver’s license,” she said.
GOP advocates working to get the repeal measure on November’s ballot say they’ve seen strong support.
Milford resident Maureen Maloney, a member of the GOP state committee who is leading the charge on the recall effort, said “probably 60 to 80 percent” of people her team approaches to sign a petition to get the question on the ballot support the idea.
After the first three weeks of signature gathering, Maloney said they have gathered 20,000 uncertified signatures. Her committee has to deliver 40,120 certified signatures to the secretary of state’s office by Sept. 7 in order to make it on the ballot.
“We have had a great response from the public,” she said.