Voter ID Laws Are Preventing Trans People From Voting

Voter suppression measures have already created chaos at the polls.

Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

It is common knowledge and objective fact that the actual purpose and intended consequence of voter ID laws is to prevent traditionally Democratic voters from casting a ballot. This highly effective mode of voter suppression has already successfully skewed elections in favor of white Republicans by blocking poor, black, elderly, and Latino voters. Now it appears these laws are suppressing the votes of another historically left-leaning bloc: transgender Americans.

While obtaining a valid ID is difficult for many voters, trans people face a special hurdle: In voter-suppression states, they must present an ID. If that ID displays a sex that seems obviously different from their current gender identity, poll workers may turn them away. Yet changing the sex on your ID typically necessitates changing the sex on your birth certificate first. In about a dozen states, trans people can do this fairly easily, with a notarized doctor’s note affirming their transition. (No surgery required.) But then, these states also tend to have progressive voting laws. Most voter ID states—and most states in general—force trans people to have sex reassignment surgery before changing their birth certificate sex. Yet many trans people don’t want or need this surgery. For these individuals, the combination of voter ID laws and stringent birth certificate rules essentially revokes their right to vote.

Then there are the four states that don’t allow trans people to alter their birth certificate sex under any circumstances. Trans people born in Tennessee, Idaho, Kansas, and Ohio may never be allowed to vote: The birth certificate rule effectively bars them from ever obtaining an accurate ID. These states have recently become aware of this problem—but rather than loosening birth certificate laws, they have moved to tighten them. Kansas courts, for instance, already interpret existing law to prevent trans people from changing their birth certificate sex. But the state is still pursuing a new regulation that would explicitly prohibit trans people from altering their birth certificate.

Republican legislators probably didn’t intend to strip trans people of their voting rights by passing voter ID laws, at least initially. But they are likely delighted by the unintended consequence. With Republicans leading the battle against trans people’s right to equal protection, the community has probably turned against the GOP for several generations. Now that won’t matter much: Republicans have devoted much of the last decade to enacting laws the keep trans people out of the voting booth, anyway. The whole point of voter ID laws has always been to suppress minority votes. When trans people are ensnared in the racket, that just means the laws are working as intended.