Strict Voter ID Laws May Disenfranchise 25,000 Transgender Voters, Study Finds
Requiring photo ID to vote has become a contentious issue across the nation as more states—entrenched in partisan battles—pass these laws before the November election. Critics, including the Department of Justice, have asserted that these laws have a disproportionate impact on underrepresented communities. Strict voter ID laws in nine states may also prove to be significantly troublesome for citizens who face “unique challenges to obtaining accurate government-issued identification,” according to a new study from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.
This November, 88,000 transgender people who have transitioned to living full-time in a gender different from the gender assigned at birth will be eligible to vote in the nine states that have adopted strict photo ID laws, including Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. Laws are currently being challenged or pending approval in Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin.
According to the study, The Potential Impact of Voter Identification Laws on Transgender Voters, these laws may have a significant impact on transgender voters’ access to the ballot.
“Transgender people who have transitioned face unique hurdles when acquiring or updating identification that would fulfill voter ID requirements because they must comply with the requirements for updating the name and gender on their state-issued or federally-issued IDs and records,” wrote the study’s author, Jody Herman. “Requirements for updating state-issued IDs vary widely by state and can be difficult and costly. Federal requirements also vary by agency.”
The study found that at least 25,000 transgender people living in states with strict ID laws do not have updated proof of identification, such as a driver’s license, that reflect their gender. In the U.S., as many as 40 percent of transgender people reported not having an updated driver’s license and 74 percent reported not having an updated U.S. passport. A disproportionate number of these citizens comprise of people with low incomes, minorities, youth, students, and people with disabilities.
“These voters who are at the risk of disenfranchisement could decide a close election,” said Herman. “For instance, only 28 votes decided control of the House in Pennsylvania in 2006 and nearly 5,600 voting-eligible transgender residents do not have updated ID in the commonwealth.”
The occurrence of disenfranchisement, as well as discrimination, may be relatively high in the transgender community, prompting a need to educate poll workers on the issue. A number of people “reported having negative experiences after presenting identification documents that did not match their gender presentation, which is what many transgender people will be required to do at the polls,” according to the study. Forty-one percent of transgender people reported being harassed after presenting ID and 15 percent said that they had been “asked to leave the venue where they presented the identification.”
“As election officials in these states begin planning for their fall elections, this research highlights the importance of educating poll workers in order to ensure that transgender voters in their states have fair access to the ballot,” said Herman.