Report

The Potential Impact of Voter Identification Laws on Transgender Voters in the 2020 General Election

February 2020

Transgender citizens with identification documents that do not match their gender may encounter obstacles to voting. This report estimates the impact of voter registration requirements and voter ID laws on transgender people who are eligible to vote at the polls in the November 2020 general election.

Highlights
Transgender people of color, young adults, people with low incomes, and people with disabilities are more likely to not have accurate IDs for voting.
Eight states have strict voter ID laws that require voters to provide a government-issued photo ID to vote on a regular ballot at the polls.
Each election year since 2012, the Williams Institute has released reports on the potential impact of voter ID laws on transgender voters.
Data Points
965,350
transgender adults are eligible to vote in the 2020 general election
378,450
voting-eligible transgender people do not have IDs that reflect their correct name and/or gender
81,000
transgender adults reside in states with the strictest voter ID laws
Report

Introduction and Summary

Transgender people who live in a gender different from the one assigned to them at birth face unique obstacles to obtaining identification documents that reflect their gender.1 Having identification documents that do not accurately reflect one’s gender, including in name or gender marker, can cause problems for transgender people during a variety of activities, such as when applying for a job or housing or when interacting with police officers or other government officials.2 Transgender citizens with identification documents that do not match their gender may also encounter obstacles to voting. When registering to vote, individuals are required to provide their driver’s license number or last four digits of their social security number on their voter registration form, if they have one of these forms of identification.3 If a voter does not provide one of those numbers or registers to vote for the first time by mail, they may also need to show an acceptable form of identification at the polls.4 In addition to voter registration requirements, thirty-five U.S. states have additional voter identification laws (voter ID laws), which require voters to provide identification when voting at the polls.5 The strictest voter ID laws require voters to present government-issued photo ID at the polls, and provide no alternative for voters who do not have one.6 In the November 2020 general election, over 378,000 voting-eligible transgender people may face barriers to voting due to voter registration requirements and voter ID laws, including 81,000 who could face disenfranchisement in strict photo ID states.

Data Source: National Conference of State Legislatures

*Elections in the state are conducted entirely through the mail.

This report relies on information on voter ID laws from the National Conference of State Legislatures7 and data from the 2018 Current Population Survey and the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS) to estimate the impact of voter registration requirements and voter ID laws on transgender people who are eligible to vote at the polls in the November 2020 general election. Key findings in this report include the following:

  • We estimate that 965,350 transgender adults will be eligible to vote in the 2020 general election. Of these, 892,400 reside in the 45 states where elections are not conducted entirely by mail.
  • Approximately 42 percent (378,450) of voting-eligible transgender people in these 45 states have no identification documents that reflect their correct name and/or gender. These voters may face barriers to voting at the polls due to an incorrect name on the voter registration rolls or due to voter ID laws.
  • About 260,000 voting-eligible transgender people live in the 35 states that have voter ID laws and have no IDs that correctly reflect their name and/or gender.
  • Of those voting-eligible transgender people who live in voter ID states, 81,000 live in the states with the strictest voter ID laws (strict photo ID states), and they could face substantial barriers and potential disenfranchisement in the November 2020 general election.
  • Transgender people of color, young adults, students, people with low incomes, and people with disabilities are likely overrepresented among the over 378,000 voting-eligible transgender people who may face barriers to voting in the 2020 presidential election.

Download the full report

The Potential Impact of Voter Identification Laws on Transgender Voters in the 2020 General Election

James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality, available at https://transequality.org/sites/default/files/docs/usts/USTS-Full-Report-Dec17.pdf (last accessed February 18, 2020).

James, et al., The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey.

U.S. Election Assistance Commission. (2020). National Mail Voter Registration Form. Washington, DC: U.S. Election Assistance Commission, available at https://www.eac.gov/sites/default/files/eac_assets/1/6/ Federal_Voter_ Registration_ENG.pdf (last accessed February 19, 2020).

U.S. Election Assistance Commission, National Mail Voter Registration Form. Some states may accept a copy of different forms of ID than driver’s license or social security number with the voter registration form if the voter does not have a driver’s license number or social security number.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), a bipartisan organization, provides current information on the status of voter identification laws and legislation in all U.S. states, available at http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/voter-id.aspx (last accessed February 18, 2020). The NCSL website also includes a description of identification requirements and statutory citations for legislation enacted in each state.

This analysis is limited to voting-eligible people voting in person at the polls. This analysis does not account for those people who may vote with an absentee ballot or another type of mail-in ballot. Requirements for absentee voting vary by state and often require the voter to attest to having an acceptable reason for needing to vote absentee. Voting in the United States is a two-step process in all but one state (North Dakota): one must first register to vote and then cast a ballot. For the purposes of this study, it is assumed that transgender voters will have registered to vote under the name and address that is currently reflected in their citizenship documents or other identification documents that are required for purposes of voter registration and voting.

Underhill, W. (2020). Voter Identification Requirements | Voter ID Laws. Washington, DC: National Conference of State Legislatures, available at https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/voter-id.aspx (last accessed February 19, 2020). Alabama and Missouri were reclassified by the authors. See note 15.