USA Today: As anti-LGBTQ rhetoric grows, voter ID laws create obstacles for thousands of transgender voters

By Cady Stanton


Heading into a midterm election shaped in part by debates over LGBTQ rights and curriculum in schools, voter identification laws in some states could create barriers at the ballot box for thousands of eligible transgender voters Tuesday.

Forty-three percent of voting-eligible transgender people who live in states that conduct their elections primarily in person lack identity documents that correctly reflect their name or gender and may face obstacles to voting in person as a result, according to a recent report from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law.

Among the 878,300 transgender adults in the U.S. who are eligible to vote in midterm elections, 414,000 – 47% – live in one of 31 states that both conduct their elections primarily in person and have a voter ID law, the report found. Nearly half of those voters, 203,700 individuals, do not have an ID that accurately reflects their name and/or gender.

Transgender voters may face questioning or rejection by poll workers because of IDs that don’t match their identity, barring them from an important election year for LGBTQ issues, Kathryn K. O’Neill, a policy analyst at the Williams Institute who co-authored the report, told USA TODAY.

Those races include school board, state legislature and gubernatorial candidates running on platforms restricting discussion of LGBTQ issues in schools and attempting to ban gender-affirming care for transgender youths, according to O’Neill.

“These elections have never not been salient, but they’re especially salient in recent years, given the rise in legislation that’s specifically anti-transgender, and so it adds some extra urgency to wanting to vote,” O’Neill said.

Wynne Nowland, a transgender advocate, said the fear of being outed as transgender or facing discrimination when voting in person with an ID that doesn’t match one’s gender can be intimidating.

Voter ID laws vary in strictness but create challenges for trans voters

Thirty-six states in the U.S. have voter ID laws, but the strictness of their requirements vary, according to VoteRiders, a nonpartisan nonprofit focused on voting rights. Twelve states have “strict” voter ID laws, meaning they may require voters who do not have an accepted form of ID to be limited to submitting a provisional ballot. Seven of those states require a valid form of photo ID.

An estimated 110,800 eligible transgender voters live in states with strict photo voter ID laws, 64,800 of whom do not have any IDs with their correct name and gender marker, according to the Williams Institute.

“In these states, a trans voter might very likely find themselves in a situation where they present an ID that doesn’t necessarily align with the name or the gender that they currently identify,” said Lauren Kunis, CEO and Executive Director of VoteRiders. “They’re more likely to face sort of outright mechanical challenges when it comes to voting.”

Eleven states have passed new or stricter voter ID laws since the 2020 election, according to VoteRiders. With many midterm races operating on tight margins this year, voter ID laws could play a significant role in election outcomes, according to Kunis.

The 2015 U.S. Transgender survey found that nearly one-third of surveyed transgender people in the U.S. who have shown IDs with a name or gender that did not match their presentation reported negative experiences, such as being harassed, denied services and/or attacked.

Voting hurdles come alongside growing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, legislation

Many of the states with the strictest photo voter ID laws are also those considering legislation targeting LGBTQ rights. In Arkansas, a U.S. district court is currently hearing a trial on the state’s ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youths, while Kansas’ gubernatorial race this week could decide the state’s laws on a transgender sports ban and a so-called parental bill of rights on LGBTQ issues in school curriculums.

“Where these voter ID laws are strictest is also where it’s most likely that the legislators there might be working on anti-trans or anti-LGBTQ legislation,” O’Neill said. “There’s definitely some significant overlap.”

The challenges presented by voter ID laws also don’t impact all transgender voters in the same manner. Transgender people who are people of color, young adults, students, people with low incomes and people with disabilities are overrepresented among those who may face barriers voting in the midterms, according to the Williams Institute.

Some states have a more accessible process for updating identification documents, and the expansion of more flexible voting options such as vote-by-mail and early voting has also helped to combat these hurdles, according to O’Neill.

While these impediments are important to recognize, transgender voters and all of those facing barriers to voting in their state can often still head to the polls on Tuesday as long as they create a personal plan, Kunis said.

“The barriers are there and it’s important that we’re all aware of them, but it’s also important that we know that these barriers are not insurmountable,” she said. “By making a plan to vote, and taking a couple minutes to do your research ahead of time, you will be able to cast a ballot and be heard tomorrow.”

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