The Impact of Voter IDs

And why they could disenfranchise transgender and Democratic voters in Pennsylvania

Photo by Think Stock

This November, nine states – including Pennsylvania – will be faced with what really happens when voter IDs are required at the polls. And for more than 25,000 transgender voters, the ID system could create substantial barriers to voting, according to a new study released by the Williams Institute.

“As lawmakers consider enacting stricter voter ID laws and contemplate their potential impact in the upcoming November elections, the consequences of these laws for transgender voters should not be overlooked,” says the study’s author, Dr. Jody L. Herman.

When strict photo IDs are required of voters whose gender may not match with that of the ID, it can create major problems at the polls. The same situation has been addressed with SEPTA’s transit passes this year – a bane for many transgender travelers who have reported being denied access to transportation, harassed by transit workers and passengers alike and even having had their passes confiscated. And though SEPTA has since said it will finally discontinue the gender IDs sometime next year, voter IDs are moving forward in several states, including Pennsylvania.

Transgender voters could be hardest hit by the laws, especially if they have transitioned from their assigned sex at birth with no identification to match with their current status. The transition makes it difficult to obtain accurate government-issued identification.

According to the new report, 41 percent of transgender citizens who have transitioned say they do not have an updated driver’s license and 74 percent do not have an updated U.S. passport. Moreover, 27 percent of transgender Americans reported that they do not have documents or records that list their current gender. People of color, youth, students, those with low incomes, and respondents with disabilities are also likely to be disproportionately impacted for not having the proper IDs at the polls.

Several lawmakers in Pennsylvania have objected to the GOP-sponsored bill, including Babette Josephs, who’s facing opposition in the primary this month by fellow Democrat Brian Sims. She’s been outspoken about H.B. 934 in PA, which would require all voters to have a valid, state-issued ID by the time they show up to vote in the November election.

“There is no voter impersonation fraud problem in Pennsylvania; four people out of millions of votes cast is hardly an epidemic,” Josephs says. “The sole intent of this legislation is to keep as many seniors, minorities, low-income and urban residents from voting because these groups are more likely to vote against Republican candidates. It is dangerous legislation and denigrates a constitutional right that millions of Americans have died to protect.”

Many Democrats question if the voter ID push is simply a tactic by Republicans to keep Democrats away from the polls as they are predicted to be most gravely impacted by the law. “Our very own governor is on record encouraging voter suppression,” Josephs says, referring to a comment then candidate-for-governor Tom Corbett made in 2010 about keeping Democratic votes down in Philadelphia and other liberal regions. “It is despicable that we have leaders who use their influence to encourage such tactics, and it proves that voter suppression is alive and well in Pennsylvania.”

Groups like the ACLU, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the Pennsylvania County Commissioners Association all tend to agree that the law would limit voting rights – for the worse.

In addition to Pennsylvania, those without IDs would also face barriers in Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin this November. All of these states have passed strict photo ID laws and could have them in place for the November election.

“As election officials in these states begin planning for their fall elections, this research highlights the importance of educating poll workers in order to ensure that transgender voters in their states have fair access to the ballot,” says Herman.

What do you think? Are voter IDs discriminatory? Or should everyone be required to have one?