Tens of Thousands of Trans People Could Be Barred From Voting Against Anti-Trans Politicians
Thousands of transgender voters may have a hard time casting a ballot in next month’s elections—or won’t get to vote at all—which, in turn, could prevent many from voting for their own fate at a time when the Republican Party is ruthlessly pursuing anti-trans policies.
“This is one of the first election cycles where we can really expect trans people to have enough visibility that we might find ourselves deliberately targeted at the polls rather than just being swept up with other marginalized groups,” said Olivia Hunt, policy director for the National Center for Transgender Equality.
“The effect of trying to silence anybody’s voice at the polls is to skew the results of the election,” she said.
With less than two weeks until the midterms, there remains a series of barriers that make it hard for trans folks to cast their ballots, including issues with updating IDs, strict voter ID laws in some states, and incidents of anti-trans harassment and intimidation at the polls that could deter them from voting. This, at a time when they’re being directly targeted by conservative policymakers across the country.
According to the latest transgender voting study from the UCLA’s Williams Institute, there are about 878,300 eligible trans voters across the U.S., and about one-quarter of them don’t have updated IDs that match their names and gender. About 65,000 eligible trans voters live in states with the strictest voting ID rules, including Mississippi, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Meanwhile, just under 700,000 eligible trans voters live in states where voting is primarily done in person, as opposed to by mail, which exposes them to ID scrutiny and puts them at risk of harassment.
Trans folks who are Black, Indigenous, people of color, low-income, students, or unhoused are more likely to face voting barriers than their white and well-off counterparts, the study found.
That means that tens of thousands of trans people–if not more–who are eligible to vote may struggle to do so at a time when conservatives are assaulting their rights all over the country: Red states have banned LGBTQ-themed books, prevented trans girls from participating in girls’ sports, and implemented harsh bathroom policies in schools. Just last week, Republicans in Washington, D.C. introduced a national bill that would severely restrict the rights of trans people.
“There’s a lot on the line,” said Kathryn O’Neill, the study’s lead author and a policy analyst at UCLA’s Williams Institute. “Being able to access healthcare and basic things like that. There are these additional barriers to being able to participate in a democracy and to make your voice heard about these different kinds of laws.”
“It’s higher stakes and it’s more stressful,” she said.
Barriers begin well ahead of voting day. For one thing, trans folks often have a hard time obtaining up-to-date IDs that reflect their correct gender: Getting a new ID costs money and can involve several bureaucratic steps. In the U.S., a legal name-change alone can be a convoluted and expensive process. That’s made worse by the fact that even after a person has obtained a new ID, their precinct may not update the voter registry with their accurate information in time for elections.
“A trans person might not be registered to vote for a variety of reasons by choice or by accident,” Hunt said.
That makes voting particularly difficult in states that have strict voting ID rules. States with the strictest policies, including Tennessee and Georgia, require voters to present photo identification, with few or no alternative ways to verify their identity. Both states are known for anti-trans hostility.
“Someone might show up at the polls with an older driver’s license that doesn’t match their current appearance because they haven’t been able to update their license yet,” Hunt said, adding that trans voters may then be denied their right to vote.
The numbers show that trans votes have the potential to swing tight races. According to the UCLA study, President Joe Biden won by 11,779 votes in Georgia, a state where there are an estimated 17,200 eligible trans voters. The study also noted that the 2000 presidential election was decided in Florida by a few hundred votes—and there are as many as 30,300 eligible trans voters in Florida who don’t have accurate IDs.
“This isn’t a small group you can dismiss,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill added that local advocacy groups are great resources for trans folks who want to learn more about voting rules in their states, and how to navigate them.
Despite voting barriers, a 2015 National Center for Transgender Equality studysuggest trans people are more likely to participate politically than their cis counterparts. More than half (54 percent) of the trans respondents who are U.S. citizens and of voting age said they had voted in 2014, compared to 42 percent of people in the general U.S. population who said they voted.
“So much about our lives has been politicized by anti-LGBTQ extremists,” Hunt said. “So even for people who are concerned about their safety by registering to vote, participating in civic processes is not optional.”
“We need to do everything we can to protect our rights in what can often be a very hostile country,” Hunt added.