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Study Finds Voter ID Laws May Negatively Impact Transgender Americans

LGBT constiutencies are an important part of any election.

CREDIT: Flickr user Adam Fagen.

The battle over voter ID taking place in courtrooms around the country has focused primarily on issues of access as an argument against the implementation of voter ID legislation. Within liberal camps, the argument goes that for Americans who don’t have the means to obtain the necessary identification, voter ID laws become an insurmountable obstacle to voting.

The claims are not without merit. In 2012, the Brennan Center reported that as many as 11 percent of eligible American voters do not have a valid photo-ID.

But according to one recent study, it turns out that some American populations are still disenfranchised by voter ID laws even after they go to the lengths of securing a government-issued photo-ID.

As of 2014, over 24,000 transgender Americans stand to be negatively impacted by voter ID laws in ten states that either already carry strict ID laws on the books or have legislation pending. That’s nearly 30% of transgender citizens who have transitioned.

“Transgender people who have transitioned to live in a gender different from the one assigned to them at birth face unique obstacles to obtaining identification documents that reflect their correct gender,” wrote Jody Herman. Herman is the author of a study by the Williams Institute looking at the challenges voter ID laws present to transgender Americans at the polls.

According to Herman, the discrepancy between the gender presentation of a transgender person after transitioning and the gender that is still officially assigned to them on government documents is the issue that could keep transgender persons from exercising their right to vote.

At the heart of the matter is the fact that states have varying definitions of what constitutes a “valid” ID. While some states set limits on expiration dates for ID, others stipulate that specific pieces of information, such as an address, appear on the card. In many instances, it’s up to election officials at the polls to make the initial call in determining whether or not an ID is valid.

“Government election officials and poll workers will decide whether transgender voters have identification that sufficiently conforms to the voter and the voter registration rolls in strict photo ID states,” Herman wrote.

Unfortunately for transgender individuals, such officials don’t always make decisions that reflect equitable treatment, according to the research.

“Respondents to the [National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS)] reported having negative experiences after presenting identification documents that did not match their gender presentation,” Herman wrote.

She continued, “Forty-one percent of transgender respondents who have transitioned reported being harassed and three percent reported being assaulted or attacked after presenting IDs that did not match their gender presentation. Fifteen percent were asked to leave the venue where they presented the ID. Furthermore, transgender respondents to the NTDS reported being denied equal treatment (22%) and being verbally harassed (22%) by government officials.”

The NTDS, while not representative, is still the best available data for determining transgender citizens who may be negatively impacted by the changes in voting laws, according to Herman.

Using the data from the survey, Herman also concludes that transgender people of color, youth, students, and poor Americans were more likely than other demographics to lack documents with updated gender information.

Citing two particular cases, Herman wrote that “American Indian or Alaskan Native respondents (46%) and Black respondents (37%) lacked updated documents or records at the highest rates among racial and ethnic groups in the NTDS.”

African-Americans and Native Americans, along with the other populations Herman mentions, are the same groups of non-transgender individuals cited by opponents of voter ID laws as being less likely to possess documentation at all.

For such transgender individuals, their identities would appear to put them even further at risk of being warded away from the polls by voter ID laws.

Solving the ID issue for transgender voters is complex, according to Herman’s work. Currently, the obstacles keeping them from the polls may reflect even more of a barrier than that experienced by non-transgender voters.

“In order for these 24,000 voting-eligible transgender people to obtain the updated IDs required to vote in the November 2014 general election, they must comply with the requirements for updating their state-issued or federally-issued IDs,” Herman wrote.

“These requirements vary widely by state or federal agency and can be difficult and costly to meet.”

In the battle over voting rights still raging across the nation, it seems the costs of voter ID are adding up quickly, both before and after requirements are met. For Herman, the costs are especially high for transgender citizens, for whom even having the right ID still may not be enough to freely cast their vote.

Quinlan Mitchell is a reporter with Generation Progress.

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