Transgender voters can be put at risk by voter ID laws
The majority opinion in the Supreme Court's 2008 decision to uphold the first voter ID law stated there was not "any concrete evidence of the burden imposed on voters who now lack photo identification."
But almost 29 million voting-age Americans did not have a valid driver's license in 2020, according to a 2023 study by the University of Maryland's Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement.
For those who have access to valid ID, it is easy to assume everyone else does too. This belief is particularly common for white upper-middle-class lawmakers, according to Cassius Adair, an assistant professor at The New School whose research has focused in part on the history of driver's licenses in the U.S. At least 9 in 10 white American adults (92%) have a nonexpired driver's license, compared with nearly 4 in 5 Hispanic American adults (77%).
"There's a prevailing assumption amongst lawmakers that everybody has a state ID, and it's easy to get, and if you don't have one, it's your fault," Adair told Stacker.
Many of those without valid ID are young people; older adults; Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous adults; low-income Americans; immigrants; and people without housing. Formerly incarcerated Americans and people who went through the foster care system also frequently lack valid IDs.
Common obstacles to obtaining a state ID include financial constraints, complicated document requirements like birth certificates or Social Security cards, and needing proof of residency.
Out of the roughly 414,000 voting-eligible transgender Americans living in states with both voter ID laws and mostly in-person voting, nearly half (about 203,700) do not have an ID that matches their name and gender, according to the Williams Institute.
Showing up to the polls with an ID that doesn't match one's name or appearance can lead to being turned away and make trans voters vulnerable by effectively outing them as transgender, according to Logan Casey, a senior policy researcher and advisor at the Movement Advancement Project.
"Research shows that when transgender and nonbinary people show IDs that don't match their gender identity, they are more likely to experience violence or harassment or discrimination or be denied services," Casey told Stacker.
For the large percentage of transgender Americans without a valid or accurate ID, there are even more roadblocks to obtaining or updating an identification document. "Many states have very restrictive and outdated laws that make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for transgender and nonbinary people to update their identity documents," Casey said. "That's all preexisting the last couple years, where we've seen a dramatic escalation in anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender legislation."
Eight states—including Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina—require proof of surgery for transgender and nonbinary people to change their gender marker on driver's licenses. The American Medical Association called for removing surgery requirements for changing ID documents in 2014 since not all trans and nonbinary people desire, or are able to access, surgery or other forms of medical transition.
Earlier this year, Kansas became the only state to prohibit changes to gender markers on both birth certificates and driver's licenses.