Over the last two years, a number of significant stories have appeared in the media concerning voter suppression. Suppression typically affects marginalized populations, and among these oppressed groups, of course, is the LGBTQ community.
Close analysis of voting suppression patterns suggests there isn’t a single way of discriminating against community members. Rather, dissuading LGBTQ voters from going to the polls is apparently the proverbial death by a thousand cuts.
For example: In one indirect and infamous instance, the Trump Administration decided to exclude LGBTQ Americans from registering their status on the 2020 National Census and the American Community Survey. Without relevant questions on these surveys, LGBTQ Americans will have minimal demographic input.
Granted, the U.S. Census Bureau will allow for respondents to differentiate between opposite-sex and same-sex partners. That’s a small improvement — but not enough, say advocates. The Census is used to account for policy-making and research, and can affect the boundaries of voting districts.
What isn’t seen can’t be counted.
And there are other ways to turn down the vote. In June, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute. The Husted case was concerned with Ohio’s voter registration. Under Ohio electoral law (which was upheld), a voter’s inactivity can be used as a reason to remove them from the registry. Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in Husted noted: “Communities that are disproportionately affected by unnecessarily harsh registration laws should not tolerate efforts to marginalize their influence in the political process, nor should allies who recognize blatant unfairness stand idly by.”
Purging the rolls is a long tradition in politics. As think-tank Dems argue, such restrictions disproportionately affect queer people of color, and trans persons: “Strict voter ID laws, for example, are particularly burdensome for those who don’t identify or present as the gender marked on their identification documents, and voter registration requirements can present similar impediments.” The Williams Institute estimates that due to stringent identification laws, November 2012 saw nine American states disenfranchised to the estimated tune of 25,000 transgender people.
According to the LGBT Bar, there are numerous other devices governments used to reduce LGBTQ turnout. Among these: requiring ID for all voters, removing chances for flexible or early voting, or having elaborate or needlessly complex residency requirements.
Finally, there is felony disenfranchisement. At current, 48 states (with D.C. among them) block incarcerated felons from voting. As well, 35 of these states stop paroled felons from voting. Due to a lack of legal protection against employment discrimination (and high rates of homelessness), roughly 16% of trans persons have been subject to incarceration. Many members of the LGBTQ community are forced to relocate multiple times in their lives, with some people having no fixed address.
Margaret Arnett, an Indivisible activist who teaches classes about voter registration, says that Atlanta and Georgia were having noticeable problems with suppression. Among these, she notes a rejection of “voter registration forms for seemingly minute errors or omissions.” She says that all too often, Georgia won’t have “forms in other languages available.” Arnett notes that the state engaged in “purging voters from the voter rolls. The claim is that they are maintaining the voter rolls, but we are hearing stories about people who’ve never moved and who’ve always voted being placed on inactive status.”
Finally, says Arnett, the state often engages in “closing/changing polling places that cause confusion and can be burdensome on those with transportation or mobility issues.” As to how these activities work against LGBTQ voters, Arnett says that “current Georgia voter-registration forms only list two choices for gender question: ‘male’ or ‘female.’” She adds: “We have seen a higher rejection rate of those trying to register to vote if the person has a hyphenated name.”
Each of these obstacles add up. In 2016, the advocacy group Lambda Legal asked 4,813 Pride attendees if they planned on voting in their upcoming local elections and in the presidential contest. Yes results? 77.87%. No results? 14.77%. The remainder added no opinion.
The people who didn’t vote in 2016 had multiple reasons: almost a fifth had citizenship concerns; some said they suffered from law-enforcement disenfranchisement; some respondents said photo ID laws were problematic; others said they remained unregistered. In Georgia, as in the rest of the United States, it is claimed the people rule.
Which people, exactly, remains the area of contention.