Point of View

Voting rights of NC’s transgender Tar Heels in jeopardy, too

April 22, 2013 

The voter ID bill introduced by N.C. House Republicans has generated a great deal of attention on how the law would make voting more onerous for low-income communities, the elderly and people with disabilities. We should add transgender citizens to that list because their rights to the ballot box are in danger, too.

The House bill requires people to present government-issued photo identification in order to vote. This poses unique challenges to citizens who have transitioned to a gender different from the one assigned to them at birth. Transgender citizens must navigate a difficult maze of state and federal requirements to obtain new IDs that accurately reflect their gender.

According to a study published by the Williams Institute at UCLA, there are an estimated 12,500 transgender people who are eligible to vote in North Carolina. About 40 percent of that population has no photo ID that conveys their current gender. As a result, the votes of nearly 5,000 transgender citizens are endangered by the photo ID bill.

Some transgender citizens might present poll workers with IDs that do not match their current gender, and poll workers could decide that the ID does not pass muster. Those citizens would not have their votes counted. Moreover, in other states that have already passed voter ID laws, 41 percent of transgender voters suffered harassment when they presented IDs that did not reflect their gender presentation.

Disenfranchising only a small number of citizens could still change election results. For instance, only 654 votes separated the winner from the loser in last year’s congressional race in North Carolina’s 7th District. Democrat Mike McIntyre narrowly defeated Republican David Rouzer.

As North Carolinians deliberate on the proposed voter ID law, the voting rights of transgender citizens should be remembered. Transgender voters should be provided with equal access to ballots regardless of the gender reflected on any identification.

Jody L. Herman, Ph.D., is the Peter J. Cooper Public Policy Fellow and Manager of Transgender Research at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. Holning Lau is an associate professor of Law at UNC-Chapel Hill.

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