Regardless of whether you have ever had trouble voting in the past, this year, voter ID laws may make it harder for many trans people to vote. Even if you have the required ID, the new laws may encourage additional scrutiny toward and bias against trans voters. It is important that every trans person takes steps now to make sure they can vote on Election Day. This was written to give all trans people the information they need to be able to cast their votes and to respond to possible problems at polling places.
CHECKLIST BEFORE ELECTION DAY:
- Check your voter registration status or register to vote at www.canivote.org. Verify that the name and address is up to date, and if not, make sure to update your information.
- Check to see what or if any ID is required when you vote in your state by going to www.866ourvote.org/state, and then get the appropriate form of ID if needed.
- If ID is needed in your state, make sure your name and address on your voter registration matches your name and address on your ID by the election. But don’t worry if your gender identity or gender presentation doesn’t match your name, photo, or gender marker, as that is not required by law.
- If your state allows voting-by-mail (often called “absentee voting”), consider signing up for that through www.canivote.org. In many states, you no longer need to be traveling on Election Day to be able to vote-by-mail.
CHECKLIST FOR ELECTION DAY:
- If ID is required in your state, bring it. It is also helpful to bring your voter registration card, a utility bill showing the address where you are registered, and this one-pager. You might also want to bring other IDs if you have them available.
- If poll workers question your identity or eligibility to vote, show them the utility bill and the info for poll workers below.
- If you are still not allowed to vote, look for a volunteer attorney at the polling place who may be there assisting voters who are being told they cannot vote. If no one is around, then call the National Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) for help.
- If you are still not allowed to vote on a regular ballot, request a provisional ballot. If you are forced to use a provisional ballot, ask for follow-up instructions, as you generally must return to election officials within a few days to prove your identity in order for your ballot to be counted. If you cast a provisional ballot, call the National Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683), which can help you make sure your ballot is counted.
INFORMATION FOR POLL WORKERS AND ELECTION OFFICIALS
The voter you are talking to is transgender, meaning that their gender identity is different than the gender that was recorded on their birth certificate. Transgender people may not have been able to update their IDs to reflect their identity for a number of reasons. This is not illegal. As long as the relevant voter data (usually the name and address) matches one of the acceptable forms of ID, the voter has the right to vote. Please do not be distracted by gender presentation when you are evaluating a voter’s identity and eligibility to vote.
Here is other information that might be useful to you:
■ Gender discrepancies on ID are not a valid reason to deny a regular ballot. Transgender voters may have ID that indicates a different gender than what they look like. They may not have had the opportunity to update their ID yet, or may not be able to do so in your state. This does not mean their ID is invalid or fraudulent for voting.
■ Different clothing, makeup or hairstyle on an ID photo is not a valid reason to deny a regular ballot. Voters may look different today than on their photo ID for many reasons. The photo on an ID may show a different gender presentation. As long as you can identify the voter from their picture, the ID is valid for voting.
■ A voter’s transgender status and medical history is private. Although you may be curious or confused about a voter’s appearance, asking personal questions is offensive, inappropriate, and not relevant to their right to vote.
■ Transgender voters are not doing anything wrong or trying to deceive you—they are just being themselves. Transgender people have the right to vote just like everyone else, and it is your responsibility to ensure they are able to do so without hassle. If confusion about this person’s right to vote persists, please speak to an election supervisor or election judge in your area to resolve any remaining questions.
THE PROBLEM: VOTER ID LAWS
Strict new identification requirements in many states may make it more difficult for transgender voters to get their votes counted in the upcoming election. Other voter suppression laws include unnecessary cuts to early voting in some states. Even if you have never had a problem voting in the past, it is important to know that you may encounter problems this year. The more prepared you are, the better your chances of having your vote counted.
Strict voter ID laws affect transgender voters in two important ways. First, these requirements create barriers for anyone who has difficulty obtaining the required forms of ID. Second, the laws increase the likelihood that transgender voters may encounter confusion, bias, and discrimination because of scrutiny of their ID documents and gender at the polling place. According to a report released in September 2014 by the Williams Institute, more than 24,000 transgender voters may be affected by these laws.
Because of these new laws, some states now require government-issued photo ID (examples include driver licenses, passports, military ID, and state employee ID cards) in order to vote. Voters who do not present proper photo ID may be asked to sign an affidavit confirming their identity, or in some states may be given a “provisional ballot” and required to prove their identity within a few days (usually by visiting an election office) in order for their vote to be counted. Be aware that types of ID accepted vary by state; some states will not accept passports or out-of-state student ID, for example, even though they are photo IDs. Social Security cards and birth certificates are not accepted in states that require a photo ID.
Many states request photo ID, but do not require it in order to obtain a regular ballot; some other form of ID, like a birth certificate, social security card, or even a utility bill at your registered address may be enough. A non-photo ID of some kind may be required, so check your state’s law. The type of identification necessary depends on which state you vote in and what that state’s identification requirements are. Every state has somewhat different requirements, and more detailed information for every state is available from the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition (see Resources below).
HOW DO VOTER ID LAWS PREVENT TRANSGENDER VOTERS FROM VOTING?
Though transgender voters have not been specifically targeted by legislation, they could be disproportionately affected by the new rules. Many trans people cannot obtain updated identification, and poll workers have broad discretion under these laws to deny voters a regular ballot—even incorrectly—if they think that someone is trying to vote fraudulently.
Transgender voters may be prevented from casting a regular ballot for three main reasons:
- Gender or other discrepancies on ID: Because of varying state policies and laws, many transgender people are unable to update driver’s licenses and other forms of ID to reflect their gender identity. Their ID may not list their name or gender correctly, or may not have a photo that reflects their current gender expression. None of these things makes a person’s ID invalid or insufficient to establish voter eligibility. However, because of ignorance and bias regarding transgender people, or misunderstanding of the law, poll workers may believe that a person’s ID is invalid or suspicious and try to prevent them from voting. While bringing multiple forms of ID can sometimes be helpful in resolving any questions, if a person has multiple forms of ID with different names or gender designations this may cause more confusion.
- Unfair suspicion or discrimination based on appearance: Even where voters have consistent and up-to-date name and gender information on their ID, we expect many poll workers to challenge transgender people about the accuracy of their ID, often based on their appearance.
- Lack of required ID: While most people take having a photo ID for granted, many people with low incomes, limited access to transportation, and other resource limitations do not have them, and obtaining required ID can be a significant hurdle. Because of high rates of poverty, unemployment and discrimination facing transgender people as well as the fear of disrespect or discrimination when applying, transgender people are disproportionately likely not to have a photo ID.
YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE
In general, any person who is at least 19 years old, a U.S. citizen, and meets the residency requirements of their state can vote. This is true regardless of sex, race, national origin, disability status, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation. Being transgender or gender non-conforming is not a reason that you can be denied the opportunity to vote.
Voting While Homeless or Without a Fixed Address
Many people wrongly believe homeless people cannot vote. In fact, not having a fixed address should not be a barrier to voting. Most states allow a shelter address, a description of a general location at which the individually usually spends the night, or even a drawn map to be recorded as an address on voter registration forms. An address is needed primarily for assigning people precincts and mailing election information. Confirm what may be used as an address with your local elections office. Homeless people may, however, experience additional barriers in obtaining ID in states where it is required to vote. For more information, visit http://866ourvote.org/state and click on your state.
Felony Convictions and Voting
One major exception to universal voting right is that in some states those with felony convictions may have their right to vote taken away. In some states, it is possible to regain the right to vote by re-registering after finishing one’s sentence or after a subsequent period of time, or by petitioning to have your rights restored. To find out if you are eligible to vote or can have your right to vote restored, visit http://restoration.866ourvote.org/.
EARLY AND ABSENTEE VOTING
Not all states allow early voting, but if it is offered in your state, early voting can be a good way to avoid trouble at the polling place. Voting early will ensure that any issues with your ID are caught in time to be corrected or addressed, and will ensure that you do not forget to vote. Dates and hours for early voting vary by state. Visit http://866 ourvote.org/ or your state or county elections website to find early voting hours, dates, and locations.
There are two types of absentee voting. Some states have no-excuse absentee voting, in which anyone can vote absentee without giving a reason, even if they expect to be in the state on Election Day. Other states have absentee voting, but require voters to give a reason why they cannot vote in person on Election Day. Rules for who can and cannot vote absentee vary in these states.
No-Excuse Absentee Voting
In 27 states and the District of Columbia, voters are allowed to vote absentee regardless of whether they will be able to vote in person on Election Day. If you live such a state, you should vote by absentee ballot as early as possible. By voting early, you can ensure that any ID issues are caught and that you don’t forget to vote. Go to http://866ourvote.org and search for your state under “Absentee Voting” or go to your state’s elections website to find out when the absentee voting period begins and ends, how to get an absentee ballot, and how to submit it. If you live in a state where both early voting and no-excuse absentee voting are available, you should use whichever option is most convenient for you.
Excuse-Required Absentee Voting
In 20 states, you may only vote by absentee ballot if there is a legitimate reason that you cannot vote in person. In these states, the rules vary as to who is considered eligible to vote by absentee ballot and who is not. Go to http:// 866ourvote.org and search for your state under “Absentee Voting” or go to your state’s elections website to find out whether you are eligible to vote by absentee ballot in your state, when the absentee voting period begins and ends, how to get an absentee ballot, and how to submit it. If you live in a state that has both early voting and excuse-required absentee voting, we suggest voting early.
Vote by Mail
Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have mail voting, and automatically mail a ballot to every eligible voter. If you live in one of these states, see http://866ourvote.org to find out how the process works and what the important dates are to make sure you get your ballot in on time.
College and graduate students have the right to establish voting residency in the place they consider their principal home. This may be your current school address, or a previous address (such as parents’ address) you still consider to be “home.” However, it is necessary to establish your voting residency by following the registration requirements for your state. Follow the steps above to confirm that your registration and ID are correct and sufficient, and vote early or in person or absentee as applicable. Some of the states that have passed voter ID laws will not accept student IDs and others have passed strict new requirements for student IDs that universities and colleges may not be able to comply with in time for the election. Find out if you will be voting in such a state and obtain a different type of ID, if possible. For more information on student voting, check the Brennan Center’s 50-State Student Voting Guide (see Other Resources below).
Disability and Language Access
Voters who need assistance because of a disability or limited English proficiency have the right to bring a friend, family member, or other person of their choice with them (so long as the person is not an agent of their employer or union). Polling places are also required by law to be physically accessible to persons with disabilities. Some jurisdictions are required by law to provide bilingual ballots; the US Justice Department, Voting Rights Section maintains a list of these jurisdictions and other relevant information (see Resources below). If you encounter any problems, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683).
State-by-state guide to voter requirements and when and where to vote:
Absentee and early voting information:
Brennan Center, 50-State Student Voter Guide:
U.S. Department of Justice, Voting Rights Section:
Herman, Jody L., The Potential Impact of Voter Identification Laws on Transgender Voters in the 2014 General Election. September 2014. http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/voter-id-laws-september-2014.pdf