Elections

Transgender woman was asked for ID to vote in Mecklenburg. Why activists are worried.

Transgender advocates are fearful that a new state law requiring North Carolina voters to provide photo ID at the polls in 2020 will lead to discrimination — and potentially, disenfranchisement — against people who are gender nonconforming.

Polls workers will require implicit bias training, activists say, to avoid discrimination. They’re worried because many gender nonconforming people are often unable to afford legal name changes, including on driver’s licenses.

During Tuesday’s election, a transgender woman was asked to show her ID at a polling station in Cornelius, though the law is not yet in effect, WSOC first reported Friday.

Michael Dickerson, the elections director for Mecklenburg County, said a precinct worker asked for the voter’s name, who was voting curbside around 6:30 p.m. When the voter provided the name that is listed on her ID, which sounded to the poll worker like a masculine name, the worker called for the precinct’s supervisor.

“At that point, the chief judge then asked for some sort of ID,” Dickerson said in an interview.

The woman was ultimately able to vote, he said. But Dickerson said the incident signals all poll workers need to be cognizant of individuals who may have altered their appearance, including by transitioning.

“We have all been through sensitivity training for photo identification,” Dickerson said, recalling a 2016 state law that had also required voter ID. “Especially with the next year coming up, we always want to make sure that we retain the integrity of the process.”

Ames Simmons, the policy at director at Equality North Carolina, called for training that teaches poll workers not to be distracted by a person’s gender presentation. As long as a person’s name and address are consistent across ID and voter registration, that person can legally cast a ballot.

It is unclear if Tuesday’s incident was an isolated event in the state, he said.

Yet it seems to underscore a long-rooted trope, Simmons said, that transgender people are attempting to be deceptive or fraudulent.

“I think it’s a real risk that trans people will hear about this and think, ‘I don’t want to be turned away from the polls when I go to vote,’” Simmons said. “Sometimes, trans people are harassed — it’s not just that they’re turned away.”

Many transgender people may choose to stay home on Election Day to avoid confrontation and violence, said Kelli Baron, president of Transcend Charlotte, a nonprofit organization that supports gender diverse people.

“It’s not like dealing with a rude employee at a business place,” Baron said. “This is fundamentally questioning someone’s legitimacy as a human being. That can only happen so many times until you don’t have the strength to keep fighting back.”

Simmons suggested that transgender individuals research and know their rights before they head to polling stations.

“People will feel more confident if they know what actions they can take, both right there in the minute, as well as election protection that’s available after the fact,” he said.

Alison Kuznitz is a reporter for The Charlotte Observer covering local government. She previously interned at The Boston Globe, The Hartford Courant and Hearst Connecticut Media Group. She grew up in Connecticut and is a 2019 Penn State graduate.
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