Some state legislatures have passed photo identification laws to combat alleged voter fraud. These laws could affect transgender voting rights. Many transgender people have great difficulty in updating their Identification (ID) documents.

Jen Laws, an Independent Policy Analyst and Consultant, disputes the alleged voter fraud. According to Laws, in 2012 and 2008, prosecutors found two cases of voter fraud. He described it as “a ridiculously small percentage.” Many other people also fail to see any evidence of this alleged voter fraud. They classify these laws as forms of voter suppression.

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In 2011, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) surveyed transgender people throughout the U.S. According to the NTDS, 41 percent of post-transition transgender people lacked an updated driver’s license. This lack increased among racial minorities. It increased to 58 percent among Black and 63 percent among Native American transgender people. Among FTM without surgery, 75 percent lacked an updated driver’s license. About 64 percent of FTM had not tried to update it. Another 11 percent had their requests for updates denied. As driver’s licenses form the most common election ID, transgender people may face trouble at the polls.

Among all transgender people, surgery made a real difference in how many updated their driver’s licenses. Those with surgery appeared to have a much easier time updating their driver’s licenses than those without surgery.

Florida Issues

In Florida, transgender people use a court order to update their ID. Atticus Rank, Director of Transgender Services at Sunserve, reported many people seek that court order. In eleven months, Rank has assisted 87 transgender clients to obtain it.

After the court order, the client has to update their ID with each ID-issuing agency. This requires taking time off from work. Most transgender people tend to have low-income jobs. In addition, an updated ID costs money.

Jen Laws continued, “What matters most to you is basic survival. Are you going to be able to pay your electric bill in the middle of the month? Are you going to have to take a day off from work to align your identification, or to vote? It's hard to feel invested in a system that discourages people from voting.”

In Florida, voters have to present a proper ID at their polling place before voting. This forms the first barrier, the lack of “proper” ID. The poll worker compares the ID with the voter and the voter registration name. When the poll worker determines that all three match, the voter can proceed to vote. This introduces the second barrier, the potential bias of poll workers.

People can dye their hair, grow facial hair, change hairstyles, or lose their hair. People do not always perfectly match their IDs. As long as poll workers can recognize the person from their photo ID, poll workers should allow them to vote.

Jen Laws brings two pieces of ID when he goes to the polls in Broward. He said, “Normally, I have facial hair but I shave. I speak more softly. I do my best to blend in because voting matters to me.”

The National Election Protection Coalition has set up a national hotline (1-866-687-8683) for people having trouble at the polls. This hotline will document incidents and provide advice to voters with problems voting. At present, no valid documentation exists as to the number of people prevented from voting. Anyone, transgender or not, with barriers to voting at the polls should call this hotline. People barred from voting should request a provisional ballot from poll workers. If someone casts a provisional ballot, they have to obtain the follow-up procedures and deadlines. A provisional ballot will not count, unless the voter completes the follow-up procedures and meets the deadlines. Early voting provides more time to resolve challenges to the right to vote.

Jen Laws praised Brenda Snipes, the Supervisor of Elections in Broward. Snipes impressed him with the speed with which she addressed issues in the Presidential Primary.

National Issues

According to Arli Christian of the National Center for Transgender Equality, 13 states make updating a driver’s license very difficult. These states require proofs of surgery, court orders, or amended birth certificates. Four other states have unclear, unknown, or unwritten policies. 

Jen Laws has heard of cases of transgender voter suppression in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Texas. Other states may have had incidents but no reports reached him about those incidents.

Matthew Pagnotti, Civic Engagement Coordinator for AIDS Alabama, works building electoral support for HIV issues in Alabama. He reported that Alabama has adopted voter suppressive laws, including a strict photo ID law. Pagnotti had heard reports that transgender voter suppression had occurred, prior to these laws. Poll workers unlawfully turned away transgender people based on the poll workers’ prejudices. These new laws reinforce those prejudices.

“In Alabama as with many other states,” Pagnotti continued, “You end up with this kind of trap, a catch-22. Transgender people have great difficulty updating their legal documents to reflect their felt gender identity. Even when they have managed to align their gender identify with the identification documents, poll workers challenge their gender expression as inconsistent with their documentation.” Pagnotti continued, “They’re literally being disenfranchised and their voices are being silenced.”

Pagnotti continued, “When you have policies like this, it causes confusion for many folks, especially folks who aren't regular voters. When they hear that now, there's going to be an ID required, [they think] the ID is going to reflect my sex at birth, and not my gender identity. I'm going to face discrimination. Those thoughts just deter people from wanting to even go through that process.” He noted voter suppression’s special effect on those that it targets in multiple ways, “trans, and queer people of color.” 

Besides photo ID requirements, voter suppression takes other forms. Some states deny the right to vote to convicted felons upon their release. Advocates label this as felony disenfranchisement. Three states, including Florida, take away the right to vote of anyone convicted of any felony. This occurs upon their release from prison.  Given the large number of people that Florida imprisons, felony disenfranchisement may have the greatest impact on Florida elections. Another seven states only deny the right to vote of people convicted of certain felonies. The other 40 states restore full voting rights to felons upon their release.

Voter suppression affects LGBT people, especially transgender people of color. It dilutes the electoral impact of LGBT people, further marginalizing all LGBT people. Voter suppression is an LGBT issue.

For information on transgender voting rights, please visit www.transequality.org/issues/voting-rights .

For the one-page checklist, “Voting While Trans,” please visit www.transequality.org/sites/default/files/docs/voting%20while%20trans.pdf .

If prevented from voting, call the National Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-687-8683. You may also visit them online at www.866ourvote.org .People mainly speaking Spanish should call 1-888-839-8682. 

For information about elections in Broward County, please visit www.browardsoe.org/ .

To check current registration status in Broward, please visit www.browardsoe.org/Voter-Information/Voter-Lookup-Free-Access-System .

To view acceptable voter ID requirements in Broward, please visit, www.browardsoe.org/Voter-Information/Voter-ID-Requirements.

Follow Sean McShee on Twitter @SeanMcShee


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