The importance of voting rights on election day

Today is election day and we’re encouraging people to make sure their voices are heard by not only getting out and voting, but getting out the vote. But unfortunately, over the last few years, states across the country have thrown up roadblocks to the right to vote. To date, 34 states require that voters present identification before heading to the poll booth. 19 of those states request or require a photo ID. This year alone, with the Supreme Court striking down a central piece of the Voting Rights Act 19 states considered legislation that would either impose a voter ID requirement or make current requirements stricter.

For the transgender community, these requirements can be daunting, even insurmountable. Many states don’t permit transgender people to get an identification card that matches their correct gender unless they can prove they’ve had sex reassignment surgery. For most, surgery will cost tens of thousands of dollars. Some states have less strict requirements, but transgender people must still provide proof from a doctor or licensed therapist that they are in the process of transition. Given the number of transgender people who live below the poverty line (four times as many as in the non-transgender population), surgery or other medical documentation may be out of reach.

In Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, we found that 41% of transgender people report that they make do with mismatched identification documents. Of those who presented identification that did not match their gender identity or expression, 40% reported being harassed, 3% reported being attacked or assaulted, and 15% reported being asked to leave.

It’s no wonder, then, that many transgender people simply stay home, giving up their right to vote rather than facing discrimination at the polls.

The transgender community is not the only group disenfranchised by these laws. Women, immigrants, people who live in poverty, minority communities, and anyone who has a largely transient life are significantly more likely to have identification that isn’t current.

So what happens to voters without ID in these states with voter ID laws?  The answer might surprise you. In Arkansas, for example, folks who show up at the polls without identification are marked on the voter registration list. After the election, the board of election commissioners may turn information about voters not providing identification over to a prosecuting attorney, who may investigate them for possible voter fraud. In Missouri, voters without identification are still permitted to vote, so long as two supervising election judges, one from each major political party, attest they know the person. In North Dakota, there is no recourse: voters without identification are not able to vote.

The Task Force is committed to fighting against restrictive voting laws, so that each and every one of us can have a voice in our electoral process. For more information, or to join us in our efforts, click here.