By Bennett Kaspar
Adapted from the National Center for Transgender Equality
In one week, on Tuesday November 8, 2016, voters all over the United States will head to the polls to cast their ballots on Election Day, but early voting has already begun in many states. Voting is a key part of maintaining our democracy and having our voices heard. Right now, it is the single most important thing we can do to change things for the better, for all of us. With so much at stake in presidential, federal, state, and local races, it is that much more important that transgender voters are prepared for what they may face at the polls.
Many states have enacted strict voter ID laws that only allow certain forms of ID from voters when they go to the polls in November. But, because of barriers that make it difficult for transgender folks to obtain court-ordered name and gender changes and/or amended birth certificates, many trans voters do not have photo IDs that match their current gender identity or presentation. An estimated 25,000 transgender voters or more may be affected by these new strict voter ID laws. I’ve written on this to help us all make sure we’re best prepared.
Note: Many people believe that if you are homeless or in transitional housing, you cannot vote. However, not having an address should not be (and often is not) an inarguable barrier to voting. Most states allow a shelter address or even a description of where an individual usually stays as an address on voter registration forms. Filling out an address of some kind is simply required for assigning people precincts, voter locations, and mailing election information. So confirm what may be used as an address with your local elections office.
This quick guide will give transgender voters (and those who work at polls) the information necessary and to get out there and vote! For more detailed information, click here.
Make sure you are registered! Head over to www.canivote.org to make sure you are registered to the correct address on your ID. If your address is incorrect, it may be too late to change it for this cycle.
In this case, you may have to head to your closest polling place to pick up a provisional ballot on Election Day, which should be available to you in the case of registration errors. Be sure to follow the instructions to submit your ballot, and be mindful of any deadlines that apply.
You can also register to vote by mail (“absentee voting”) at www.canivote.org, which can alleviate some of the pressure and anxiety caused by voting in person.
Check your local laws to see what, if any, ID is required when you vote in your state. Go to www.866ourvote.org/state to see what forms of ID are required where you vote, so you can be prepared on Election Day.
If there is an ID required to vote in your state, make sure your name and address on your voter registration matches the name and address on your ID. If your gender presentation or gender identity does not match, that is fine, it’s not required by law.
If an ID is required by your state, bring it. You should also bring your voter registration card (if you have it), a utility bill or bank statement showing your name and address as listed on your voter registration, and any other IDs you may have to support your claim that you are who you say you are.
If a poll worker questions your identity or eligibility to vote, show all your forms of ID, any bills or other proof of residence you have, and even a copy of this article. If you are still not allowed to vote, look around the polling place for a volunteer, and if you can’t find anyone, call the National Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) for assistance.
Further Notes on Transgender Voters for Poll Workers, Election Volunteers + Allies:
1. The voter who you are interacting with is transgender, meaning their gender identity is different from what is recorded on their birth certificate.
For many reasons, transgender people often have difficulty updating their IDs to reflect their gender identity. This is not illegal. As long as the voter data (e.g. the voter’s name and address) match one of the acceptable forms of ID they’re presenting, they have the right to vote. Period.
2. Differences in appearance from a photo ID are not valid reasons to deny a person the right to vote.
Transgender voters may have ID that indicates a different gender from the one they appear to identify as today. This may be because they have not updated their ID yet for personal reasons, or because they are not be able to do so in a given state. This does not mean the ID is invalid.
3. A voter’s status as a transgender person and their medical history is private.
Although you may be curious or confused about a voter’s appearance or transgender status, it is not appropriate to ask personal questions. This may be offensive to them. And above all, it is ultimately irrelevant to their right to vote.
4. Remember that transgender voters are just trying to exercise their rights.
Transgender people have the right to vote like everyone else, and as a poll worker or volunteer, it is your responsibility to ensure they are able to do so without difficulty. If there is any confusion, please speak to an election supervisor at your location to resolve questions, or call 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) to speak to a voter protection volunteer.
Bennett Kaspar is a transgender lawyer from Los Angeles, California, who specializes in employment and labor law. He received his J.D. from the University of California, Irvine School of Law in 2014, and has helped numerous employers on a variety of issues related to counseling and litigation. Find more by Bennett at his blog, www.thatguykas.wordpress.com.