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Effort to repeal driver’s licenses for undocumented Mass. residents has enough support to make the ballot, Republicans say

Jim Lyons, chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, spoke at a rally for an effort to repeal a law that will give undocumented residents access to driver's licenses.Matthew J Lee/Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Conservative opponents of a law that allows undocumented residents to apply for driver’s licenses say a repeal measure is poised to make the ballot in November.

Initiative coordinator Wendy Wakeman announced at a news conference in Boston on Wednesday the campaign, Fair And Secure Massachusetts, has collected 100,000 signatures in support of a ballot measure to undo the law, which the Legislature passed earlier this year after the Democratic majority voted to override a veto by Governor Charlie Baker.

The campaign needs 40,120 certified signatures in order to make the ballot. So far, 78,000 of the 100,000 signatures they collected have been certified, Wakeman said.


Wakeman made the announcement Wednesday alongside Maureen Maloney, a member of the GOP state committee who is leading the recall effort, Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Jim Lyons, and former state lawmaker and Republican candidate for governor Geoff Diehl.

The most signatures were collected in Middlesex County,the most populous county in the state, organizers said.

“People are really upset about the fact that this law was passed,” Lyons said in an interview before the news conference, which was held across the street from Boston City Hall. “This is one of those issues that the left went way too far on. I think we are going to have success at the polls.”

He said the ballot question will help Republican candidates “up and down the ticket” by turning out conservative voters who may not typically vote in midterm elections otherwise.

The new law, come July 2023, will allow 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 organizers behind the referendum have so far filed four boxes of petitions with the secretary of state’s elections division, a spokeswoman for Secretary William Galvin said. The staff is processing them as they are submitted, and will be ready to tally the total number of certified signatures after the Sept. 7 deadline.


Each petition sheet must be physically examined for disqualifying marks before the petition signatures can be tallied by county, Debra O’Malley, the spokeswoman, said. How quickly the certification is finished will depend on the volume of petitions submitted close to the deadline.

Supporters of the new law, including the attorney general, the majority of the state’s sheriffs and district attorneys, and the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police, say drivers who are licensed and insured make for a safer environment for the rest of the state’s drivers, regardless of immigration status.

Opponents have expressed concern over people without legal status getting documentation reserved for citizens or using a driver’s license to illegally vote.

So far, the effort to repeal the law, bolstered in part by wealthy auto parts company executive and GOP activist Rick Green, has been active statewide in collecting signatures at grocery store parking lots and other public places.

But so too has the effort to quash the idea and get voters to pick “yes” to uphold the law, should the effort make the ballot. The Driving Families Forward coalition, which has advocated for the law for the last two decades, has been turning out at signature-gathering sites to provide information to those asked by the GOP-led group to sign a petition.


Lyons described the members of the “yes” campaign as an organized effort by Democrats to “interfere, coerce, and intimidate” people not to sign the petition. Lyons said he was threatened “at least a half-dozen times” by activists who support upholding the new law. Maloney told reporters there were instances where the police were called.

One of the leaders of the coalition to uphold the new law, 32BJ SEIU Executive Vice President Roxana Rivera, said volunteers are showing up to combat the “misleading” and “ugly messages” about immigrants she says are being relayed by conservative volunteer signature gatherers.

“I do think there was a lot of confusion and misleading information,” Rivera told the Globe Wednesday.

At least one voter has complained directly to the Secretary of State’s office about being misled to sign a petition, according to an e-mail obtained by the Globe.

The voter, whose name was redacted from the document, wrote to the office’s elections division on Aug. 8 in hopes of removing her signature from the petition. She said she was asked to help put a question on the ballot about giving undocumented immigrants a standard driver’s license, a right she said she supports.

“”I now realize that the intent of this group was to deny people a right that I think should be upheld,” she said. “I feel purposely misled by the way she presented the intent of the signature drive and do not want my name or home address associated with this effort.”

When asked about this allegation, Lyons said that voter’s signature doesn’t matter in the grand scheme.


“If you’re suggesting that one person had a problem, we have 100,000 signatures,” he said. “The story ought to be what our opponents did.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated in one instance the vote to keep the driver’s license law in place. It is a “yes” vote.

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