Monday, April 30, 2012

More Than Six Thousand Transgender Texans to be Disenfranchised by New Photo ID Law, Says Study

Over six thousand transgender Texans will be barred from the polls if legislation requiring photo identification in order to vote goes into effect. That's according to a recently released study by the Williams Institute, an independent legal institute at the UCLA School of Law. The study is based on information from National Transgender Discrimination Survey conducted jointly by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality and released earlier this year.

Last year the Texas legislature passed SB 14, a bill that requires anyone voting to present one of five forms of photo identification:
  • Driver's license or state ID,
  • Military ID,
  • Citizenship certificate that includes photograph,
  • Passport, or
  • Concealed handgun license.
If the person does not have one of those forms of identification, or if the election judge determines that the identification provided does not match the record of the person on the voter registration roles the voter may fill out a provisional ballot and then must submit proof of identification with-in six days of the election in order for their ballot to be counted.

According to the Williams Institute report 27% of transgender Texans do not have updated ID. Under this new law these voters may be unable to vote.

The new law has not yet gone into effect. So any registered voter who wishes to vote in the upcoming primary election need only show their voter registration card in order to vote (early voting starts today!). Implementation of the law has been delayed while the Justice Department considers whether it would violate provisions of the Voting Rights Act by making it unduly difficult for minority communities to vote.

Unfortunately the Voting Rights Act does not require the Justice Department to determine if the law would disenfranchise transgender voters.

If upheld the new photo ID law will have the ultimate effect of silencing one of the most vulnerable segments of the LGBT community, and at this stage in the process there is little that can be done to defeat the law other than wait and hope that the Justice Department refuses to approve it, or that a lawsuit brought to defend the voting rights of people of color is successful.

In the meantime we can prepare and educate our community about what will need to be done if this law goes into effect:

  • Double check that you are registered to vote (this goes for everyone, trans and cisgender people alike). You can look up your voter registration on-line on your County Clerk's website (just search for "(your county) TX clerk);
  • If you have a history of gender transition make certain that you have at least one of the five forms of ID listed above that matches the name and address on your voter registration;
  • Work to educate your local election officials about the issue (again, this goes for everyone). Both the Republican and Democratic parties (and to a lesser extent the Libertarian, Green and Reform parties) try to have a chair in every voting precinct. Generally the contact information for these chairs can be found on your county party's website. Contact the chair for your precinct and let them know to be on the lookout for the issue. While you're at it contact your County Clerk and ask that, if the law is upheld, election judges receive training on how to be sensitive towards transgender voters.

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