Transgender Disenfranchisement Through Voter ID Laws

One of the most momentous opportunities for participating in our democracy is voting for a candidate. Yet voting terrifies me. Voting terrifies me because it requires that someone stare at my driver’s license and then at my very short hair and my very broad shoulders and decide if the smiling face on the ID is the same as the smiling face in front of them. I am lucky as a gender non-conforming person that I have yet to be denied access to a basic human right, like voting. Sadly, I cannot say the same for the rest of the transgender and gender non-conforming community.

Recently, the Williams Institute released a report on the impact of state Voter ID laws on the trans community. The Nation has a great breakdown of the report here (http://www.thenation.com/blog/167402/how-gender-identity-may-determine-right-vote-2012).The most disturbing finding is that over 25,000 transgender people could potentially be unable to vote because their identifications, whether the picture or listed sex, do not “match” their appearance or birth certificate. As the Nation finds, this is almost a third of the 88,000 transgender people who are eligible to vote. While this seems like a small percentage of a small percentage of the overall US population, this trend reflects the growing struggle over access to fair voting laws and the right to vote.

When you are denied a ballot, you lose your voice in this country’s political process and lack the self-determination to advocate for yourself. As this article in ColorLines points out (http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/06/fannie_lou_who_why_voting_rights_still_matter.html): “Over the last few years, the narrative about voting rights has drastically changed. We know that the history of who can and cannot vote in the U.S. is fraught with discrimination against women, the poor, and people of color.”

There is a larger narrative surrounding lack of access to ID. It finds that voting is the not the only right lost without proper identification. As the Nation article addresses, access to identification is a major problem in the trans community, not just in terms of voting. Lack of current, correlating, and affirming ID limits a person’s ability to travel, apply to jobs, find safe housing and receive government benefits (e.g. social security, Medicare/Medicaid and food-stamps). It is also worth noting that the trans people who most negatively affected by lack of proper identification are people of color. Thus, the ability to access to proper identification transcends voting. It is enveloped in class, race, housing, health and ability issues.

There are less than sixteen weeks until the presidential election on November 6, 2012. While I do not think that the systemic isolation of transgender citizens (or other minority, low income, elderly or new citizen) voters will end by then, I do believe that this will be an election that creates a new consciousness around voters. This consciousness is one that promotes equality, fairness and a hope for change.