The National Conference of State Legislatures has five categories to grade the ID requirements for voting in each state. The states with the most requirements fall in the “strict photo ID” category, and Georgia is one of the ten states that have that distinction. One organization estimates that 4,400 members of Georgia’s transgender community are in danger of being disenfranchised in the general elections on Nov. 4 as a result.
The report was issued by the Williams Institute, a national think tank based at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) that focuses on LGBT issues. It is an update of a 2012 report the group issued covering the same issues.
The problem that’s causing the concern about disenfranchisement is when a transgender individual’s gender marker on their identification documents doesn’t match their gender identity or expression. So when they show up to the polls and the poll worker checks their ID and it doesn’t match, they could harass them about it and even refuse to let them vote.
“That may mean that the poll worker might question the validity of the ID they’re presenting or the validity of the voter who’s trying to cast the vote,” says Georgia Equality executive director Jeff Graham. “While everyone wants to be vigilant to protect against voter fraud, it has a disproportionate impact on transgender individuals.”
Some in the transgender community say the possibility of what might happen at the polls is too much to deal with, especially with the various other forms of discrimination that are unique to them.
“It really depends on the person working at the polling location,” says Cheryl Courtney-Evans, executive director of Transgender Individuals Living Their Truth (TILTT).
“I’ve had one person [at the polls] who paid attention to the point that they said, ‘Ma’am they made a mistake on your ID,’ and I said I couldn’t change that and that they made a mistake. They still let me vote. It just depends on the poll person and if they have a problem, but who wants to risk it?”
Transgender activist Jamie Roberts is also concerned about the issue.
“I’ve heard about a lot of people being turned away at the polls,” Roberts says. “Because of the kind of alienation that trans people experience, a lot of them just don’t bother to vote.”
TRANSGENDER VOTER ID TOOLKIT CREATED
Georgia Equality has launched efforts to address the problem. There is a Transgender Voter ID Toolkit available on the group’s website and in a hard copy version at their offices at the Rush Center. The toolkit was distributed at the recent Southern Comfort transgender conference and has been shared with the leaders of local transgender organizations.
One of the main messages Georgia Equality is trying to get out there is to change the gender marker on your ID.
“That’s going to be the best way that identification and appearance and identity all match,” says Graham.
However, changing the gender marker on your ID can be a complicated process.
“Getting the gender marker changed on your state ID or driver’s license varies from state to state. Here in Georgia the criteria is presentation of documents that would confirm that you are or have had gender reassignment procedures done,” Courtney-Evans says. “And basically that’s the only way here in Georgia that it can be changed. That can be an expensive proposition for many people.”
So Georgia Equality is also pushing another option for the transgender community: vote absentee.
“By voting absentee, it’s as simple as filling out a form and sending it into the Secretary of State’s office or the county voter registration office,” Graham says. “Then you fill out the ballot and send it back in the mail at least a week in advance of the general election on Nov. 4.”
Courtney-Evans concurs with Graham.
“We can avoid any of those problems by merely voting absentee,” she says. “Then you don’t have to worry about your presentation. Anybody who’s nervous or afraid about what might happen at the polls and wants to take part in the political process should go ahead and vote absentee.”
Of course the root of the problem is Georgia being in that select group of states labeled with “strict photo ID” status, but there’s skepticism over that changing anytime soon.
“At this point in time there’s no serious effort to loosen voter ID requirements and I don’t anticipate they will come up anytime in the near future,” Graham says.