Restrictive Voter ID Laws Are Hurting One of America's Most Overlooked Groups

ByAshley Spillane

 The "Pass the Mic" series showcases voices, perspectives and ideas that spark interesting conversations. 

Ashley Spillane is President of Rock the Vote.

Imagine if you had to provide your medical history just to ensure your right to vote? While America’s tradition of free, fair and accessible elections is one of our proudest achievements as a nation, it’s tough to forget this country’s record of electoral discrimination. Making it harder to vote for some Americans is not a new trend; from poll taxes to literacy tests, underhanded tactics have historically been used to deter African-Americans, young people, new immigrants and English-as-a-second-language voters from heading to the polls. The most recent wave of restrictive voter ID laws across the country may block some marginalized voters from the polls, particularly members of one often overlooked group: transgender Americans.

According to a recent study by The Williams Institute, more than 24,000 transgender voters in 10 states face substantial challenges in their efforts to exercise their right to vote. Voter ID laws in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin require transgender individuals to present government-issued photo ID at the polls in order to cast their ballot.

If you think this sounds like a reasonable request, consider the nuanced – not to mention sensitive and costly – points involved. In states like Georgia, Indiana, Kansas and Tennessee, this measure effectively blocks transgender voters from the polls if they cannot afford or choose not to undergo a surgical gender change.

Alarming statistics show that many transgender voters associate the voting process with fear and anxiety, not empowerment and democratic agency. Transgender voters hoping to cast their ballots are often met with resistance and pervasive judgment at the polls. Forty-one percent of National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) respondents reported being harassed when presenting gender-inaccurate ID, while 15% of respondents were asked to leave the venue altogether. A small percentage of respondents (3%) even reported being physically attacked at the polls, simply for showing up. 

NTDS also shows that 40% of transgender citizens reported not having a driver’s license updated to reflect their assigned identity, while approximately 3 out of 4 of these citizens lacked an updated U.S. passport, and 1 out of 4 of the same group reported having no ID documents whatsoever that list their correct gender. The cards are further stacked against transgender voters if they happen to be low-income, people of color, people with disabilities, and/or young in age.  

In some cases, transgender voters with inaccurate ID will be encouraged to cast a provisional ballot, which requires the voter to present government-issued ID to an election official within a limited time frame following an election. Should the process take longer than the allotted few days, their vote will be deemed ineligible and will not be counted. 

Denying any citizen’s right to vote based on gender, race, age or income is soundly unconstitutional. It is heartbreaking and infuriating to witness lawmakers attacking, rather than protecting, our nation’s most vulnerable citizens’ fundamental rights – especially when the U.S. is the most diverse it has ever been and is in the position to benefit substantially from passionate new voices. It’s about time this wealth of diversity and perspective was encouraged and reflected in voter turnout.