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Queer and Trans People Continue to Face Voter Disenfranchisement

Justin, a genderqueer resident of the rural community of El Dorado Hills in California’s Central Valley, had to wait over two months to change their license at the DMV. While waiting, they told INTO they were scared to vote — they’d received harassment from their community over their gender and, due to their driver’s license not matching their legal name, gender, or presentation, they weren’t sure about their right to vote in the election.

“Is this identity fraud?” they asked, driven by the anxiety of more anti-trans targeting from their town.

Because they were registered as a woman, they still receive mail from politicians – including Democrats – misgendering them and using the wrong honorifics.

“Nothing makes me want to vote less than reading ‘Mrs. [last name redacted]’ on official legal documents when this could not be further from the truth,” they tell INTO. Still, they say they “feel like voting is my civic duty. [But] I am barred from accurately doing so as on paper my vote is that of a cis woman’s rather than that of a genderqueer person.”

Early voting began in the U.S. this week as one of the country’s most pivotal midterm elections of all time comes onto the horizon. A historic number of queer and trans candidates are in the running and the Democrats have a chance to retake the House. Many expect a “blue wave” of progressive candidates, including democratic socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to get elected.

However, Republicans are attempting to suppress voters by creating additional voting restrictions. An unprecedented number of queer and trans voters may be unable to vote this election. Currently, 34 states have laws on record that request or require voters to show identification at the polls. With the limited ability of name and gender changes for queer/trans people, these laws put the voting rights of our community in jeopardy. When IDs do not “match” registration, election officials and poll workers can turn away potential voters. Seventeen of these 34 states require a photo ID, which makes it even more difficult for queer and trans people who may not appear as they did when their photos were taken.

Last month, a Williams Institute study found an estimated 78,000 trans men and women “may not have identification or documentation that accurately reflects their gender” in order to vote. This study uses low estimates of the total trans population (and only accounts for trans men and women), so the actual number is likely even higher. 

In the November 2012 election, The Williams Institute estimated that 9 states may have disenfranchised 25,000 people.

Driving these voting laws are conservative politicians who know that when more people vote, progressives are elected. Voter ID laws are also driven by the Trump administration, which foments reactionary panic over alleged voter fraud – which has largely been proven to be a myth. These laws do not only target queer and trans people but also people of color, low/no-income communities, and other marginalized groups who cannot afford to have an ID or at least have one with the correct information on it.

Following numerous reports of trans people struggling to vote, The National Center for Transgender Equality released a #VotingWhileTrans checklist with questions regularly asked by trans people. The list only helps within the confines of the law, which still disenfranchises most people convicted of felonies, many homeless people, and many disabled people. Removing barriers from voting including ID laws will ensure that the system becomes at least a little bit fairer for trans people like Justin, who will face poll workers uninformed on trans issues and voting rights.

It takes less than two minutes to become a voter. You can register to vote and check your registration status at vote.org.

Image via Getty


Eli Erlick

Eli Erlick queer trans woman, PhD student, and director of Trans Student Educational Resources.

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