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Immigrants not auto enrolled to vote under new driver’s license law

October 17, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: A new Massachusetts law providing driver’s licenses for immigrants in the country illegally will also automatically register them to vote in elections.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The law passed by Massachusetts state lawmakers this summer prohibits immigrants without legal permission to reside in the U.S. from being automatically registered to vote. The law specifically mandates that the state Registrar of Motor Vehicles develop procedures and regulations to ensure that license applicants who are not citizens are not automatically registered to vote.

THE FACTS: Social media users have been reviving fears that the new Massachusetts’ law would give those living in the country illegally the right to vote. The concerns come as Bay State residents weigh a ballot referendum on the law in next month’s election.

The law, which takes effect July 1, 2023, would allow Massachusetts residents who cannot provide proof of lawful presence in the U.S. to obtain a driver’s license or permit if they meet all other requirements, such as passing a road test and providing proof of identity.

“Giving Driver’s licenses to illegals gives them the right to vote,” the Massachusetts Republican Party said in a Facebook post from earlier this month that’s received more than 600 likes, comments and shares as of Monday.

“We’ve been saying it from the beginning - the bad law passed by the Massachusetts legislature giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants will damage the integrity of state elections by automatically registering illegal immigrants to vote,” another Facebook user recently wrote.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl repeated the claim last week during a televised debate against Democratic rival Maura Healey.

“They become enrolled to vote in future elections,” he said, noting that Republican Governor Charlie Baker vetoed the legislationin part over election concerns. Massachusetts’ Democratic-led legislature ultimately overrode the veto, allowing the bill to become law.

But state Sen. Brendan Crighton, a Democrat who was a lead sponsor of the bill, told The Associated Press that the voting concerns have “long been debunked.”

He argued that green card holders, student visa holders and other types of noncitizens can already seek Massachusetts driver’s licenses, and there’s a system in place to ensure they’re not automatically registered to vote.

The state in 2020 enacted an automatic voter legislation law in which every eligible citizen who interacts with state agencies like the RMV is automatically registered to vote, unless they specifically opt-out.

The state’s current driver’s license form asks if the applicant is a U.S. citizen and a Massachusetts resident under a section for voter registration. If the applicant can’t answer “yes” to all the questions or if they don’t want the RMV to share their information, they are then instructed to check a box that says, “Do not use my information for voter registration.”

“The term ‘automatic voter registration’ is a misnomer in the sense that the individual is not registered to vote unless they are a citizen and over 18 years old,” Crighton said. “It is not actually automatic.”

Additionally, 16 other states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar laws and have not reported non-citizens being illegally permitted to vote, said Elizabeth Sweet, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, which supports the new law.

Earlier this month, Colorado officials said they mistakenly sent postcards to about 30,000 noncitizensencouraging them to register to vote, due to a glitch related to the state’s driver’s license database.

Sweet said instances like that should “not be blown out of proportion” as Colorado has said no ineligible individuals would be allowed to vote as a result of the mishap.

“The idea that the Work and Family Mobility Act will allow for increased opportunity for voter fraud is nothing but shameful fear mongering,” she said in an email.

Amanda Orlando, Diehl’s campaign manager, didn’t dispute that Massachusetts’ new law specifically prohibits automatic voter registration for those seeking drivers licenses.

But she maintained the law, as constructed, “places the burden” of reviewing voting eligibility on the already overburdened and understaffed RMV.

“What is written in the law, and what will happen in reality are different,” Orlando wrote in an email. “As noted by Governor Baker, they are not able to handle the volume they currently have, let alone increase it substantially with giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.”

The RMV declined to comment, but Secretary of State William Galvin’s office, which oversees Massachusetts elections, said the two agencies have been in communication as the RMV develops its regulations and procedures ahead of the law taking effect next year.

Under the current process, the RMV provides the secretary of state’s office with all the relevant information for voter registration -- such as an applicant’s name, date of birth and address -- and can provide additional information to further verify voting eligibility,said Debra O’Malley, Galvin’s spokesperson.

“They send over a batch of registrations each night to our office, which are then distributed to the appropriate cities and towns for local election official review and certification,” she said by email. “The RMV has a record of what evidence of lawful presence has been provided and removes from those batches anyone who hasn’t provided them with a U.S. birth certificate, U.S. passport, or U.S. naturalization papers.”


This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.