Rights group: Trans people could be ‘collateral damage’ in voter ID battle

By David Ferguson
Thursday, October 11, 2012 14:00 EDT
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Voting while trans PSA screenshot
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The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) warns transgender Americans that stringent new voter ID laws could exclude them from casting a ballot this November.  Advocates urge transgender people to check and make certain that they are registered and that they have the proper ID needed in their state to vote.

“The right to vote is the right that all the others come from,” NCTE Director Mara Keisling told Raw Story.  ”Voting is really, really  important for marginalized people, because that’s how we affect change.”

And while Keisling does not believe that the network of stringent new voter ID laws that Republicans have imposed in states across the country is intended to disenfranchise trans people specifically, “I actually think we’re collateral damage.  I think there is a party that doesn’t want students to vote, that doesn’t want poor people to vote and doesn’t want people of color to vote,” which they’re trying to accomplish by various means including purging of voter rolls and, in Keisling’s words, “creating an atmosphere of confusion and intimidation” about who is allowed to vote, and when, and where.

She said these suppression efforts include everything “from the confusion of having new laws at the last minute to this organization called True the Vote, whose sole purpose is apparently to intimidate voters. There clearly are efforts this year to keep voting down and trans people are likely to get caught up in that.”

Vincent Villano, also of NCTE, said, “Voter ID laws and laws that require sex reassignment surgery in order to update IDs are barring trans people from voting.  Right now, there are nine states with strict photo ID requirements.  In nearly all of those states, trans people are being told that they have to undergo medical procedures, procedures that cost 20, 30, 40 thousand dollars, procedures that sometimes trans people don’t want to get, or are medically advised not to get so that they can update the ID that they need to vote.”

The 9 states are Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Tennessee. NCTE has put up an information page with links to each state’s voting requirements and more so that trans people can find out what they need to vote.

Many people don’t realize the difficulties faced by transgender people when it comes to obtaining the essential documents necessary to function in society like drivers licenses, passports and social security documents, often the very documents necessary to vote under the new laws. Often, when poll workers are informed that a voter is transgender, they immediately ask to know the person’s “real name,” which sometimes does not match the name they currently use.

Earlier this year, three transgender people in New York City filed suit against the city on the grounds that its criteria for obtaining new identification was so difficult as to amount to a form of discrimination. Transgender people had to undergo full reassignment before city officials would issue new ID. In most other parts of the country, the process is even more demanding.

NCTE has produced a series of PSAs, including a clip directed at poll workers, to help educate the public about the issues faced by trans people at the polls. Trans people, say the clips, should understand that even though they were able to vote last year, they may face a different set of requirements this year.

Watch a PSA entitled “Voting While Trans” from the NCTE, embedded via YouTube, below:

Also, you can watch the “Voting While Trans” PSA for poll-workers, below:

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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