Transgender People Likely Disenfranchised by Voter ID Laws, Research Suggests
It’s no secret that some of the most common burdens in the daily lives of transgender people are identification documents. Gender markers (either explicit or inferred from photos or names) on everything from driver’s licenses to birth certificates to Social Security ID’s create constant difficulties—from bureaucratic headaches to legitimate safety concerns—for both transgender and gender non-conforming people.
Now, with the passage of “Voter ID” laws in several states, we can add the basic democratic right to vote to the list of activities that force transgender people to confront substantial institutional, personal, and psychological barriers to something crucial that many others take for granted.
First, some context: Over the past year, Republican legislators have launched themselves into a panic over “voter fraud” and have posited the need for stricter identification requirements when people vote.
But anyone who puts the slightest trust in (or even considers) empirical data about voting knows that voter fraud is an incredibly rare occurrence. By incredibly rare, we’re talking less than a thousandth of a percent rare.
The reality is clear: Voting access is already too restrictive, and efforts to create new barriers amount to nothing less than voter suppression. Laws like these disproportionately affect disenfranchised groups—young Americans, people of color, the elderly, poor people, and, of course, transgender people.
These laws work to keep the “riffraff” (read: young, poor, of color, trans—really any voter more likely to be pro-equality or Democratic) from voting and ensure those voting are only the only “qualified” people (read: middle-aged, white, straight, moneyed, gender-conforming—those likely to be conservative or vote Republican).
In recent months, there’s finally been an increased awareness—both in the media and among elected officials—about many of the anti-democratic effects of these laws. Unfortunately, these reports and discussion have failed to address the impact these laws have on transgender people.
Attention reporters, analysts, and lawmakers: Check out the National Transgender Discrimination Survey [PDF]—especially the chapter on Identity Documents—and the voting rights analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice to better understand how devastating Voter ID legislation is to transgender Americans.
According to research by the Brennan Center, millions of eligible voters nationwide don’t have proper identification required under Voter ID laws for a number of legitimate reasons.
Transgender Americans face an unemployment rate twice the national average, meaning their access to a steady income and a stable residence is much lower. This makes it particularly challenging for transgender people to meet the stringent criteria of Voter ID laws.
According to the Brennan Center, approximately 12 percent [PDF] of voting-eligible people in the U.S.—about 21 million people—lack a current government-issued photo ID. That figure disproportionately includes people of color, senior citizens, young voters, the working poor, and people with disabilities [PDF].
It’s a well-documented fact that transgender Americans face daily problems with identity documents, exponentially compounding the difficulties mentioned above.
Just 59 percent of transgender people reported updating their driver’s license or state ID. It’s even less likely they’re carrying updated documents like passports, Social Security cards, or student records. And transgender people of color and low-income transgender persons report even lower rates of updating identification.
The National Transgender Discrimination Survey [PDF] thoroughly documents trends and barriers to access that, when examined in conjunction with Voter ID research, yield a bleak picture for transgender peoples’ ability to vote in states where such laws have been enacted.
Voter ID is one more added barrier to voting for transgender people—who also face higher rates of incarceration, are more likely to experience long-term homelessness, and experience heightened discrimination in public places where voting occurs.
Coupled with the lack of transgender elected officials and inadequate legal protections for transgender people, the odds seem unfairly stacked against transgender Americans in traditional politics. This makes the fight for trans-inclusive policies, openly transgender elected officials, and the elimination of laws that disparately impact marginalized people even more vital.
The corporations and conservative politicians responsible for the most recent legislative push for Voter IDare advocating for laws that are blatantly discriminatory while making it harder for the people already marginalized by our current policies and systems to vote. These laws are anti-working class, racist, and disparately affect transgender people.
Voter ID laws are nothing more than 21st century Jim Crow laws—and clear examples of institutionalized discrimination against transgender Americans.
Vincent Villano is the communications manager at the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Sam Menefee-Libey is the LGBTQ Advocate with Campus Progress.