Voting while trans: Georgians face hurdles at polls

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Georgia’s strict voter ID laws could impact at least 11,500 eligible transgender voters, so LGBT advocates are warning trans voters on how to prepare for confusion or transphobia at the polls ahead of Election Day on Nov. 8.

Tens of thousands of people have already cast ballots since early voting opened in Georgia on Monday. Early voting runs through Nov. 4, with Election Day four days later. For transgender voters, it's not always as simple as showing up at a voting center. Part of the difficulty many trans people face when voting has to do with how they are read by poll workers, according to Chanel Haley (photo), the Transgender Inclusion Organizer at Georgia Equality.

“Their appearance might not match either their gender marker or their name on their ID,” Haley said. “It causes more questions to be asked.”

Georgia's voter ID law, among the strictest in the nation, requires people to show a government issued ID to verify their identity before voting. These laws have widely been panned by voting rights advocates for placing barriers that mostly affect marginalized communities, including trans and gender non-conforming voters, as well as voters of color and low-income voters.

Georgia has one of the largest transgender populations in the U.S. and more than 29,000 transgender Georgians are eligible to vote, according to the Williams Institute, which researches the impact of law and public policy on LGBTQ people. Of all eight states with strict voter ID laws, Georgia by far has the most transgender folks that will be impacted, an estimated 11,500 or 39 percent of eligible transgender voters, according to a recent study from the Williams Institute.

One step trans voters can take is to bring documentation if the name they are registered to vote with is different from the name on their IDs.

“So say for instance maybe you did have your name changed but you haven’t changed your driver’s license or had your ID changed, you can always bring the court order with you to prove that,” Haley explained.

For many transgender people, the expense of completing a name change and changing their gender marker on government documents can be a barrier to having identification that matches presentation. In Georgia, the process requires documenting expensive, invasive gender reassignment surgery, something not all transgender people decide to do.

Haley said early voting allows time for talking through any issues with poll workers, and allows voters to bring more accountability to the process. She also suggested absentee voting as another options for trans people.

“The difference between voting absentee, though, and voting in person, is that you can actually sit there and watch a person take your information and put it in,” Haley said. 

That makes it easier to intervene if there are any problems.

“Absentee ballots do count – cause there’s a myth that people say that they don’t count, they do count – but you want to physically watch and make sure [the poll workers] do what they need to do,” Haley said.

For transgender voters worried about harassment, voting by absentee ballot means they don’t have to directly deal with poll workers. But voters are still required to send in copies of their ID the first time they sign up to do it and voting by mail can make it more difficult to follow-up on any problems.

“I vote early every single time, I do it at the Fulton County Government Center. I’ve never had a problem,” Chanel said. “Before I used to vote early, I used to vote at Georgia Tech, so I’ve been fortunate enough to live in areas, again, that have  – I’m not going to say always accepting – but they do their job.”

Georgia Equality created a Transgender Voter ID Toolkit that includes some chilling statistics: 

When presenting identification 41% of transgender and GNC individuals report being harassed, 15% report being asked to leave, and 3% report being assaulted.

Haley said a last resort for transgender voters is to request a provisional ballot, which can be done if there are problems when voting early or on Election Day.

“If you are turned away make sure that you demand the provisional ballot,” Haley said.

Once a provisional ballot is cast, voters have to return with documentation verifying their identity in order for their provisional ballot to be counted.

The Transgender Law Center has also prepared an in-depth guide to voting while transgender, including information to provide to poll workers.

Voters concerned that they are being denied the right to vote should first reach out to poll watchers on site that monitor and respond to problems at the polls. The Transgender Law Center also suggests calling the National Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683).

Haley urged all voters, particularly transgender ones, to stand up for their right to vote.

“I think it’s important that people go out and vote. Do not let anybody scare you into not voting,” Haley said.


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