Transgender Voters Left in Cold With Patchwork of ID Laws

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Ignorance Plays Role in Transgender Voting

Suspecting fraud, the volunteer kept asking Swinford, "Is that you, is that you?" and repeatedly called her "sir." Eventually, the local board of elections was called and she was able to vote.

"But it took a half hour and it was very embarrassing and stressful," said Swinford. "It speaks to the misunderstanding and training of workers at polling places, who are mostly volunteers."

One of the huge issues with voter ID laws is that many in the transgender community cannot afford the steps necessary to legally change name and gender markers, even in states that allow for such changes.

Though not required for voting, it would have cost Swinford $265 to legally change her name. It costs only $4 to change it on a license in Arizona, but a doctor or psychologist visit to get the required letter is costly.

Arizona eventually put her on the early voting list and Swinford could vote by mail, a solution she suggests to other transgender voters.

Swinford has now invested in getting a federal passport, which she can use as a second form of identification, a move she recommends to others.

"We wind up playing these games, but it's not the cheapest ID in the world," she said.

Still, many say it is the ignorance in the general public about being transgender that makes it difficult to show up to vote.

Charles Meins, a 22-year-old college graduate and aspiring writer from Massachusetts, also faced bias at the polls. His state does not require voter ID, merely an address.

Meins, who was born female, had changed his name, but it had not yet been updated from his birth name.

"They told me I had already voted," he said. "I told them, 'No, I hadn't -- I would have noticed if I did.'"

The poll worker pointed to Charles Meins Jr. on the registration list -- his father, who has a different middle name.

"People think they are being polite, but they kept on calling me 'Miss,' and it got louder and louder," Meins said.

As it turns out, when he had gone to change the gender on the voting rolls, town hall officials got it wrong. Instead of marking him as male, they changed Meins to an independent.

In November, he'll vote with an absentee ballot because of all the fuss -- and he says he is moving.

"It was very jarring," Meins said. "It was less of an issue of embarrassment. I need to be allowed to vote. If I had not been in Massachusetts, I might have been denied the vote."

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