Is Voter I.D. a Bad Idea?

The requirement could take away the right to vote for transgendered folks in Pennsylvania

The question of whether to introduce a new voter I.D. system is being debated around the country as more than two dozen states consider measures that would require voters to show proof of identification – including name and gender. As we know in Philadelphia thanks to an already heated debate swirling around SEPTA transit passes, transgender people – or anyone who may not fit into the traditional notion of what’s male, female or in between – often experience discrimination when it comes to I.D. requirements.

In Pennsylvania, the measure is currently being debated as to whether voters would need to show identification. Without a valid I.D., already registered voters would not be permitted to participate in elections. Activists are saying the measure – being pushed forward by the GOP – would disenfranchise transgender voters, as well as older, elderly, low-income and minority voters. Not exactly the Republican base, right?

Supporters of the bill challenge that the I.D. system would cut down on election fraud (Governor Tom Corbett is all for it, and says he would sign the bill into law if the House approves it as early as next week).

“House Republicans have pushed for this bill as a way to suppress the vote,” says Rep. Babette Josephs, a friend to the LGBT community who is opposed to the new measure. “It is a bald-faced effort to keep thousands of seniors and other Pennsylvanians from voting, simply because these are the groups who tend to vote opposite of the Republican viewpoint.”

Apparently getting an I.D., like a valid driver’s license, isn’t always easy for a huge segment of the population – including many disabled people.

The PA Department of Transportation estimates that as many as 700,000 Pennsylvanians lack photo I.D. – and half of these people are senior citizens. Josephs says, as a result, implementing the bill could have a price tag of nearly $10 million.

“They say that they’re asking everyone to show proof of their identity, just like you do to make sure a person is old enough to buy cigarettes or drink alcohol,” says Josephs, “but the truth of the matter is that not everyone has a valid photo I.D. If they don’t have a photo I.D. – or even forget to bring theirs to the polling place, then under the bill, they could not vote. That is abhorrent. Voting is a constitutional right.”

She adds that there have only been four cases of misrepresentation in the PA polls out of 19.4 million votes cast since 2004. “It seems to me that with all of the troubling issues facing the state right now,” says Josephs, “including a difficult budget with significant cuts to education and human services, spending $10 million to address a problem that doesn’t exist is a colossal waste of money.”

For transgender voters, the move could even mean losing the right to vote, especially if valid identification only offers two distinct gender options. Poll sitters aren’t exactly trained to understand the sometimes sensitive nuances of gender reassignment and identity, which is why even someone with an I.D. could be turned away because he or she doesn’t look like the picture on the card.

That’s why more than 30 organizations oppose the measure, including the ACLU, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters. A similar bill was proposed six years ago that then-Governor Ed Rendell vetoed.

“Suppose a trans woman’s photo I.D. has a male name and photo on it or a trans man’s I.D. is that of a woman,” writes Shula Asher Silberstein, a contributor to “Poll workers might question the person’s identity, drawing public attention to the voter’s identity as a trans individual. For this reason, many trans voters may choose to stay home out of fear of violence.”

And embarrassment.

Identification issues with SEPTA transit passes have already created many problems for trans riders who are often ridiculed and denied service simply because the image doesn’t always match up with the I.D. (we told you about trans riders impacted by SEPTA’s I.D. system recently on G Philly).

Silberstein, who opposes the measure, also says minorities would face even tougher discrimination. “Worse yet,” she writes, “statistics show that trans women of color are more likely to suffer violence than any other group, so the trans voters who do come out might be overwhelmingly white.”

So is the debate really about voter fraud? Or more about encouraging select voters at the expense of others?