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North Carolina’s Voter ID Amendment Is a Disaster for Trans People

UPDATED (11/6/2018):

The voter ID amendment passed. With 93 percent of precincts reporting, 55.6 percent of voters supported the measure, while 44.4 percent were against.

ORIGINAL (11/2/2018):

A proposed voter ID law in North Carolina has triggered concerns it could be used to prevent trans people from voting in future elections.

The proposal is one of six constitutional amendments on the ballot in the Nov. 6 midterms. One would guarantee the right to “hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife,” while another sets a maximum cap for income tax rates at seven percent. Voters will also sound off on a motion limiting the governor’s power to appoint representatives to the Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement.

Each of these proposals has been met with widespread criticism from civil rights groups in the Tar Heel State, but many believe the voter ID amendment is among the most concerning of a bad batch. If passed, it would “require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person.”

Supporters say the law is intended to prevent voter fraud.

Tim Moore, speaker of the North Carolina State House, called the idea a “common sense measure to secure the integrity of our elections system.” Rep. John Sauls, a primary sponsor of the amendment, said the state “must not tolerate anyone’s vote being threatened” because of ballot tampering.

However, an audit of the 2016 election by the North Carolina State Board of Elections showed just one verified case of voter fraud. In that instance, a woman voted in place of her dead mother, who had recently passed.

As electoral fraud is rare in North Carolina, opponents argue the law is intended to target voters of color in a state where nearly a quarter of the population is African-American. Black voters are four times more likely than white voters to lack a valid, government-issued ID, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Lucas Acosta, national media manager for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), told INTO these tactics have “long been a part of the Republican playbook” on voter suppression.

For instance, conservatives put forward a bill earlier this year that would eliminate the last Saturday of early voting in North Carolina elections. Historically, black turnout is disproportionately high on that date—exceeding typical voting rates by approximately 40 percent.

But local LGBTQ advocates told INTO that trans voters may be caught in the crossfire this time around, particularly transgender people of color.

“Many trans people do not have an ID that reflects the name and gender that they identify with,” said Ames Simmons, the director of transgender policy at Equality North Carolina. “That means that trans people will—like many marginalized communities in North Carolina—potentially face difficulties when they try to vote.”

According to 2015 statistics from the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), just 11 percent of trans people have their name and gender marker updated on all forms of identification.

In fact, 68 percent didn’t have any of their IDs updated at all.

The process of updating identity documents can be extremely cumbersome and burdensome for transgender people. The North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), for instance, requires that individuals show proof they have completed gender confirmation surgery before correcting their gender marker.

“This isn’t a policy that is available to the public to read,” Simmons noted.

A.C. Dumlao, name change coordinator for the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF), noted that NCTE’s guide on state name changes policies leads to a “broken link on the North Carolina DMV’s website.”

Should the voter ID law pass, advocates fear many trans people may find themselves turned away from the polls. Because transitioning typically costs upwards of $20,000 and many insurance companies do not cover transition care, just 25 percent of trans people say they have had any form of gender-affirming surgery.

That would make them, thus, ineligible to update their gender marker by North Carolina’s current standards.

Dumlao—who uses gender-neutral pronouns—recently spoke with a transmasculine resident of North Carolina who was publicly humiliated and embarrassed after being questioned as to why his ID had a female name and why his photo didn’t look like him.

They said trans people face this heightened level of scrutiny all the time, whether it’s going to the grocery store or waiting in line for a drink at the bar.

“Going anywhere as a trans person with an identity document—specifically in this case a photo ID or driver’s license—is a very anxiety-provoking, possibly humiliating experience,” Dumlao added. “There’s just no way to predict how a trans person will be treated.”

Such scrutiny could result in thousands of trans voters being prevented from casting a ballot in future races.

In addition to fears of widespread disenfranchisement among transgender people, many are concerned a voter ID law would set a dangerous precedent in the wake of North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2.

HB 2 forced transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding with the “biological sex” listed on their birth certificates when entering schools and government buildings. Critics referred to the legislation, which was subsequently repealed and replaced with a watered-down version, as the “show me your papers” bill.

Tina Madison White, executive director of Asheville’s Blue Ridge Pride Center, warned that laws further targeting transgender people would “embolden some horrible people to come forward and be very intimidating.”

“It’s not just the laws we should be looking at,” she told INTO. “The principles that those laws are based on drive a lot of other behavior.”

Although Asheville is known as one of the most progressive epicenters of North Carolina, White said its trans community recently gathered in support of a transgender person who was attacked and beaten at a local mall.

That crime was unrelated to the election or to voter rights. But in the wake of a proposed memo from the White House erasing trans individuals in federal policy, White claimed that “there seems to be a greater sense that [people] have permission” to commit horrific acts of violence against transgender people.

“They’re just very scared,” she said of Asheville’s trans community. “There are people who just want to leave the south, so that affects our voter base.”

Although early polls project the voter ID amendment will pass by an 18-point margin in next week’s election, it’s likely to be challenged in court. Last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit struck down a five-year-old voter ID law in North Carolina, after claiming it “targets African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The difference between 2013 and 2018 is that proponents of the voter ID amendment haven’t actually written it yet. They plan to author a bill—which will then be voted on by members of the legislature—after the election.

“Part of the issue is that we don’t actually know exactly how it would impact trans and nonbinary people because the wording of the amendment on the ballot is so broad,” Simmons claimed. “People are voting on something where they don’t really exactly know what the rules would be.”

Moore has attempted to answer those concerns by telling voters to look at other states with similar laws to see what kinds of regulations are likely to be considered.

That advice isn’t all that illuminating. Policies vary widely in the 32 U.S. states that require some form of identification in order to vote in municipal elections. In some states, university and high school students are permitted to show a student ID, while others allow voters to register with an expired driver’s license.

In a handful of cases, voters don’t have to present a photo ID at all. They can show a bank statement or utility bill instead.

Opponents of the amendment say voters should look to Moore’s own record to know what to expect. In addition to being the author of the voter ID law, he was also one of the leading proponents of HB 2 in the North Carolina legislature.

He vociferously fought its repeal, claiming the law was about “privacy.”

But if voters and the legislature both approve the voter ID regulations, a constitutional amendment would be much harder to strike down. Roy Cooper, the state’s Democratic governor, doesn’t have the power to override it. Should the measure pass, a voter ID bill would be expected in the next few weeks.

LGBTQ advocates urge trans people and their allies to turn out on Tuesday to ensure the voter ID laws never reach the General Assembly for approval.

Many voters may never have another chance, after all.

“These shameful attempts to silence trans Americans will not go unnoticed on Tuesday,” predicted Acosta, who also serves as director of LGBTQ media for the DNC. “In this election, Americans across the country will have the opportunity to make their voices heard.”

The DNC released a voting rights toolkit for LGBTQ people earlier this year. Estimates suggest 78,000 trans people could be prevented from voting in states with voter ID laws.

Note: This story has been updated from an earlier version.

Image via Getty


Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.