New laws puts transgender voting rights at risk

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Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. -Photo: ncej

LGBT groups say new, stricter voter ID laws in some states – and even confusion about what laws are enforceable on Nov. 6 – threaten the rights of thousands of transgender voters.

“New voter ID laws have created costly barriers to voting for many trans people,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “And much worse, the debate about voter ID laws has made even the idea of voting harder, so many of us may feel discouraged from even trying to vote on Election Day. Our message is: Don’t let them scare you into giving up your vote.”

To minimize disenfranchisement, the National Center for Transgender Equality and GLAAD in mid-October released a series of public service announcements advising transgender people on how they can protect their right to vote on Election Day.

The announcements feature Keisling, writer and advocate Janet Mock, actress Laverne Cox, performance artist Ignacio Rivera, Charles Meins and poet Kit Yan. They are part of a nationwide “Voting While Trans” campaign to raise awareness about suppression of the transgender vote.

GLAAD and NCTE urge transgender people to verify whether their voter registration information matches the name and address on their identification and to consult NCTE’s “Voting While Trans” resources to find out how to protect their rights.

Getting accurate identification is an old challenge for many transgender people.

Some states have addressed the problem by modernizing laws on updating driver’s licenses. Most recently, Hawaii, encouraged by the ACLU and Equality Hawaii, made available a form intended to simplify the process of correcting gender identity on identification, including driver’s licenses.

But passage of new voter ID laws and stricter requirements may suppress the transgender vote, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA, which estimates that as many as than 25,000 transgender people could be denied access to the polls as a result of revised election laws.

The institute, in an analysis released earlier this year, found that 41 percent of transgender citizens who have transitioned reported not having an updated driver’s license, and 74 percent lack an updated U.S. passport.

Moreover, 27 percent of transgender citizens who have transitioned reported they had no identity documents or records that list their current gender. Transgender people of color, youth, students, those with low incomes, and those with disabilities are likely to be disproportionately impacted, the institute concluded.

“The consequences of these laws for transgender voters should not be overlooked,” said the study’s author, Jody L. Herman.

Herndon Graddick, president of GLAAD, said, “Every day, countless transgender Americans face challenges trying to secure IDs that reflect their true identity, and as a result, experience hardships in fundamental freedoms including the right to vote.”

Meanwhile, LGBT groups are working with other civil rights organizations to guarantee that all eligible voters – including transgender people, people of color, the elderly and college students – can cast ballots in an election to decide who represents them in federal, state and local offices.

Photo IDs are required in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire and Tennessee and requested in Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan and South Dakota. Enforcement of relatively new photo ID laws is on hold by court orders for the Nov. 6 election in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin.

The Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, in concert with conservative state legislators, drove sponsorship of the stricter voter ID measures – 62 such bills were introduced in 37 states in 2011 and 2012 and 10 states, including Wisconsin, passed such legislation.

Keisling said the legislatures enacted the bills “attempting to solve a fake problem.”