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Calming a perfect storm of confusion

A confluence of factors has made it harder than usual for voters to decode ballot Question 4. Secretary of State William Galvin is considering whether to print a supplemental voter guide to hand out at polling stations; doing so would be well worth the expense.

Demonstrators display a banner and chant slogans during a rally in front of the Statehouse in Boston on June 9, 2022, held in support of allowing immigrants in the country illegally to obtain driver's licenses in Massachusetts.Steven Senne/Associated Press

Update: After the publication of this editorial, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State William F. Galvin told the Globe that Galvin’s office will print a supplement regarding Question 4 in all languages in which ballots are printed, which the office said would be available in all in-person voting locations.

Under the best of circumstances, this year’s fourth ballot question in Massachusetts would be confusing: The question asks voters whether they approve of a new law that allows certain residents without legal immigration status to apply for state-issued driver’s licenses.

But a confluence of factors has made it even harder than usual for voters to decode the ballot question. Secretary of State William Galvin told Globe columnist Marcela García last week that he was considering whether to print a supplemental voter guide on Question 4 to hand out at polling stations; doing so would be well worth the expense.

Normally — and on all three other ballot questions this year — a “No” vote simply means preserving the status quo. That’s what voters have come to expect. In the case of Question 4, though, it’s a “Yes” vote that keeps the recently passed law on the books.


The red voter guide booklet that Galvin’s office mails out every year typically would have helped voters sort through such technicalities. But because Question 4 qualified for the ballot so late in this cycle — it wasn’t certified until early September — Galvin said it was not possible to include it in the voter guide.

In other words, the question that requires the most explanation will have the least.

Now, one takeaway from Question 4′s omission is that the state should adjust its rules to make sure there’s no way for a future ballot campaign to intentionally delay certification in order to stay out of the voter guide. The booklet also includes statements from both sides laying out their arguments to voters; it’s a crucial opportunity, especially for campaigns that don’t have deep pockets for ads, to make a direct pitch to every household in the state. It doesn’t take an overly nefarious imagination to see how a well-funded ballot campaign in the future might seek to game the calendar to deprive their opponents of that opportunity to reach voters.


Regardless, changing the procedure in future elections won’t help voters now. What Galvin could do instead is create a short supplement, using the information about Question 4 that’s available on his website. If it’s not possible to mail to everyone, then it could be distributed at libraries and other public spaces, at early voting locations, and at polling stations on Election Day.

Galvin said one consideration was the need to translate the booklet into multiple languages. Considering the disproportionate impact the question will have on immigrant communities, it’s especially important to communicate to those voters what the options would mean in practice. There’s also been an alarming uptick in social media fueled misinformation and disinformation in non-English languages, making it even more important to provide objective, accurate information like the voter guide in many languages.

Both sides on Question 4 have reason to gripe about the measure’s exclusion from the guide, and explaining the somewhat counterintuitive meanings of “Yes” and “No” votes is a challenge activists in both camps share. They should all see the value in any steps Galvin can take to clear away that confusion.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.