Justice

These 24,000 Voters Could Be Disenfranchised In November Because Of Their Gender

CREDIT: AP Photo/Marc Levy

Tens of thousands of transgender voters could be disenfranchised on Election Day due to strict voter ID laws in ten states, according to a report released by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School. The report explains that “27 percent of transgender citizens who have transitioned reported that they had no identification documents or records that list their correct gender,” although the exact percentage varies from state to state. It then estimates that this includes more than 24,000 voters in the ten states with strict laws that prevent citizens from casting a ballot if they do not show photo ID at the polls.

The ten states examined by the study are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. Although Wisconsin’s voter ID law was struck down by a federal district judge, that case is pending before the right-leaning Seventh Circuit and could be reversed on appeal.

As the report acknowledges, the exact number of transgender voters disenfranchised by voter ID will depend on decisions by local and state election officials, as well as decisions by individual poll workers who could decide whether a voter with a non-gender conforming ID is allowed to vote.

Voter ID could raise similar problems for other groups that are likely to have IDs that do not match their current names, especially married women. In Texas, for example, Secretary of State John Steen (R) issued a statement instructing that voters whose name does not exactly match the name on their ID should be allowed to vote “[a]s long as the names are substantially similar.” Yet, as ThinkProgress explained shortly after he made this statement, this rule could cause a woman’s right to vote to hinge upon arbitrary factors such as whether they took their husband’s last name or whether they kept their maiden name as an element of their name after marriage. “The name ‘Michelle Robinson’ is probably substantially similar to the name ‘Michelle Robinson Obama,’ but it’s tough to argue that ‘Michelle Obama’ is substantially similar to ‘Michelle Robinson.’”

Transgender voters could face a similar problem, as it may be up to an individual poll worker to decide if a hypothetical voter named “Daria Smith” is allowed to vote if her ID says her name is “David Smith” — so voter ID laws could wind up disenfranchising people despite the fact that they actually present ID at the polls. Additionally, according to the Williams Institute study, 41 percent of transgender respondents reported being harassed when presenting gender non-conforming ID, so that could deter many voters from attempting to vote in the first place.

Although polling on the partisan preferences of transgender voters appears to be sparse, a 2013 Pew survey found that LGBT voters on the whole overwhelmingly prefer Democrats to Republicans. Just 8 percent of LGBT voters identify with the GOP, while 56 percent identify as Democrats.

This is a trait that LGBT voters share with several other groups that are disproportionately likely to be disenfranchised by voter ID laws, which include racial minorities, low-income voters and students. Indeed, in the 2012 election cycle, Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai was so optimistic about the possibility that a voter ID law would boost the GOP’s chances at the polls that he predicted such a law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

The one thing voter ID does not do is actually combat a real problem. Although its supporters often defend it as necessary to prevent voter fraud at the polls, such fraud is virtually non-existent. A two year search for voter fraud in the state of Iowa, for example, which was conducted at the behest of Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz (R), found exactly zero cases of in-person voter fraud.