New voter ID restrictions could make it harder for transgender people to cast ballots


More restrictive ID laws will have a 'disproportionately negative impact for trans voters,' said Bobby Hoffman of the ACLU.

While voting restriction bills introduced and in some cases passed this year by Republican-controlled state legislatures will make it harder for many people to cast ballots, experts in law and justice note that transgender voters will face unique barriers because of difficulties in obtaining accurate ID. 

According to a report published in February 2020 by the Williams Institute of UCLA School of Law on how voter registration requirements and ID laws could affect the 2020 election, researchers estimated that out of 965,350 transgender adults who were eligible to vote, 378,000 might encounter barriers to voting. In states with strict photo ID requirements, 80,000 transgender voters were predicted to experience disenfranchisement.

Bobby Hoffman, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Democracy Division, told The American Independent Foundation, "The laws that have passed recently that are going to impact access for absentee voters are going to have a general impact on all voters, but those that have an intersection with ID requirements are probably the most likely to have a negative impact and a disproportionately negative impact for trans voters."

Transgender people deal with a lot of the same barriers to getting IDs that the general population does, said Jody Herman, scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute, but on top of that, they also need identification that matches their gender, which is often burdensome and expensive to obtain in many states. Herman said that there is often overlap between the states in which transgender people struggle to get accurate IDs and the states that have such voting restrictions.

"Their IDs, if they match their sex assigned at birth, don't match them as a person. So they could have inaccurate IDs in terms of the gender marker and could have an inaccurate IDs in terms of the name," she said in an interview. "And so in states where IDs are required to vote, that can potentially cause issues for trans people voting, especially voting in person, where you have a poll worker who is looking at your ID and is accepting whether the ID that you presented matches you as a person and accurately identifies the voter standing in front of them."

According to the Washington Post's March analysis of Brennan Center for Justice data, at least 250 new election bills had already been introduced at the time in 43 states. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, between January 1 and May 14, 14 states enacted 22 bills that make it harder for people to vote, register to vote, or stay on voter rolls. 

Many of these laws create new or tighten existing voter ID restrictions and target absentee voting. This year, ID laws restricting in-person voting have passed in Arkansas, Montana, and Wyoming; Florida, Georgia, and Montana have enacted laws tightening and imposing ID restrictions for voting by mail.

As of May 25, 36 states required some kind of identification at the polls. Eighteen states require a photo ID. Arkansas, Kansas, and Idaho have also made absentee voting more difficult this year.

A new Arkansas law that has been challenged in state court would take away a voter's ability to sign a sworn affidavit if they don't have the required photo identification.

Wyoming now requires voters to present identification when they vote in person. That identification must be a driver's license or identification card, military card, tribal identification card, Medicare or Medicaid insurance cards, or a U.S. passport.

Under Montana law, voters have to provide two kinds of identification to cast a ballot if they don't have a government-issued photo ID or a concealed carry weapons permit.

The ACLU's Hoffman pointed to a law enacted in Florida, and immediately challenged in court, requiring identification for mail-in ballots, noting that it too would restrict voting by transgender people.

Absentee voting and voting by mail provide transgender voters with options to cast ballots that let them avoid challenging and often threatening experiences they can face at the polls, including being outed at polling places or treated poorly by poll workers.

"Trans voters exercising the right to vote often face intimidating and unnecessarily difficult situations. These concerns include ensuring compliance with complex ID and registration requirements and the possibility of facing harassment from poll workers and others while casting a ballot in person," Hoffman said. "Voting by mail may alleviate some of these issues for trans voters. However, recent voter suppression laws limiting the opportunity for voters to cast a ballot by mail may subject trans voters with a preference to vote by mail to intimidation, harassment, and questioning when casting a ballot at the polls."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.