If you have been paying attention to politics lately you have inevitably heard about the controversy surrounding voter ID laws. In case you have not been keeping up with what has been going on, voter ID laws are being pushed into legislation in many states by Republicans who claim to be trying to fight voter fraud. On it’s face, if you do not think about it, it sounds reasonable right? The problem is that voter fraud is extremely rare. Like so rare it is not even considered statistically significant. It is nearly nonexistent. In fact, it prevents WAY more legal voting than it does illegal voting. It prevents people who do not have a government issued photo ID from voting. This specifically targets young voters who have not gotten around to getting their driver’s license yet, minority voters, resource poor voters, and elderly voters who do not drive and do not have transportation. This legislation specifically targets suppressing the vote of traditionally Democratic or liberal leaning U.S. voters in order to give conservative candidates an unfair advantage in elections.
Now the fact that this is voter suppression is no secret. Here is a clip of Republican Representative Turzai from Pennsylvania admitting that voter ID law’s are meant to ensure Romney would win the election.
Thankfully it did not work to well this election, but it is safe to say that these voter ID laws are a direct attempt to suppress voters and are still a danger to the integrity of future elections.
The one group that might be most affected by this, and yet is never mentioned in voter ID law discussions, is the trans* community. If you are trans*, there are many legal and financial barriers to getting an updated photo ID that matches your current presentation. For example, it was not until recently that Florida allowed transgender male or female identified individuals to correct the gender marker on their drivers license without having gender confirmation surgery. I would not have been able to update my ID if it was not for this change. There are still many states that will not allow you to correct your drivers license until you have surgery. This basically causes trans* individuals to have about a $15,000-$20,000 fee (the cost of the surgery that the individual has to pay out of pocket), not to mention the pain and hardship of going through and recovering from major surgery, in order to simply get accurate identification. It also prevents trans* individuals who do not want, or who are medically unable to have surgery from ever being able to correct their IDs. This can be highly problematic because having a gender marker that does not match your presentation immediately “outs” you and can lead to harassment or discrimination any time you need to show it, including at the voter polls. The same goes for updating your name on your photo ID. First you have to get a legal name change, which is another financial barrier in many states ($500+ in Florida). It may not be $15,000-$20,000, but it is still a significant barrier to those who are low income. Not having a matching photo ID can lead to false accusations of fraud at the polls, and end up with a trans* individual from being denied the right to vote.
Even if someone is able to get proper ID that matches their presentation, this does not necessarily free one of potential harassment and discrimination. If a prejudiced poll worker thinks your body does not hold up to cisnormative ideals for the gender you are presenting as, they might claim you stole someone else’s photo ID and try to prevent you from voting. This is not mere speculation. In fact, the Tea Party organization called “True the Vote” included transphobic material in a poll worker training manual this past election that specifically told them to not allow trans* individuals to vote in order to “prevent fraud.”
This is completely unacceptable. Before they even knew tea party poll workers were being trained this way, NCTE estimated that about 25,000 trans* individuals would be denied the right to vote during 2012 elections. Considering how tiny the trans* community is, that is a huge number. In some tight elections, that number is more than enough to completely change the end result. In the end, not matter what the number is, no one should be denied the right to vote because of their gender identity and presentation.