Monday, 30 April 2012 04:02

Exploring Gender: Voter ID Laws

Written by  Cael

Looking over what I know about the government, most of it was learned my senior year of high school in our required United States Government class at my little private school in Virginia where the first day the teacher gave us a test which determined where we were on the conservative to liberal scale. The next day while handing them back, he looked at me and said to the class, “Well. I’ve never had someone out-liberal me.” For some reason that moment has stuck in my mind. So did the moment in fifth grade when as a class we visited St. John’s Church in Richmond where Patrick Henry made his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech, and the person who was giving us the tour said, “When you vote, you are giving your consent to be governed.” And I haven’t forgotten. Voting is so important. Some state laws, though, are making it harder for certain groups to vote with voter ID laws.

Voter ID laws first came into being in 2003 as a stand against voter fraud. As of now, 30 states either request photo ID or require a non-photo or photo ID with variance as to what constitutes valid identification between states. Not all people have IDs. The laws have the potential to disenfranchise many groups: students, the elderly, those with low incomes, and also the trans* population. This month, the Williams Institute of UCLA published a study documenting the potential effects of these laws on trans* voters. Brentin Mock wrote up a great comprehensive piece on the study which explains more in depth its findings.

But how are trans* people affected by these laws? Every state has different requirements for changing your gender marker on your identification (as listed here), some just need a letter from a therapist, social worker, or doctor, others require proof of some irreversible surgery. In most states, it is not an easy process. So these requirements affect how trans* people are able to obtain identification matching their gender identity, and in some instances, their ability to vote. There is also the problem of name changes as well. Do the laws designate how a person presenting as male whose name on their ID is stereotypically female will be treated? There is room for interpretation within the law. How far will the need to match a person with an ID actually go?

Personally, I have not updated my ID at all since beginning to transition, though it is something I would like to do soon. If I didn’t enjoy the occasional beer, it wouldn’t be a problem. But I do, and handing out my ID to a waitress or the clerk at Kroger can get a bit awkward. Most recently, after having a discussion with a waiter about the merits of a money clip versus a wallet and then ordering my beer, he called me sweetheart when he handed me the check. But I have never been turned down service. I only have one memory of a woman at Belk refusing to run my credit card and accusing me of having stolen it before I produced my ID. Changing a name or a marker on so many documents and cards is daunting. And now to think I could be turned away from voting because how I present myself does not quite match my birth name or the gender marker on my identification? The thought is unconscionable. I want a say in what is happening in my country.

I can understand the want to diminish voter fraud, but not at the expense of potentially disenfranchising so many honest citizens. It’s daunting to think so many voters could be turned away. Make sure to know your rights. This site lists the different voter ID laws by state so you may know what to expect come November.