Voter ID laws blocking access to polls for trans+ people

Bureaucratic barriers and the threat of discrimination or abuse could prevent many from voting in person at the upcoming local elections

With an election looming, Ash Stokoe knew they might face obstacles. As part of their transition the academic had legally changed their name, but obtaining matching ID was not a straightforward process.

New rules came into force last year requiring voters to produce photographic ID before being able to vote. The accepted forms include a passport, driving licence and some travel passes.

The changes led to about 14,000 people being turned away from polling booths at last year’s local elections for not having the correct documents. The number deterred from trying to vote is likely to be much higher, with campaigners warning that some marginalised groups are more affected than others.

Ash thought they had everything needed to get a new passport. They paid an online fee and sent off an application that included a deed poll, bank statement and medical letter. But this wasn’t enough for the Passport Office, who wrote back requesting additional evidence of their name change.

“I paid for tracked postage, meaning I’d spent nearly £100 [in total] on the process… If I’d applied after an election had been called, or if there had been a delay on my side in sending the further documents because I hadn’t yet changed my name with all the services listed as suitable sources of evidence… I might have been unable to access ID in time to vote,” Ash told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The hurdles they faced didn’t come as a surprise. Along with a fellow academic, Kit Colliver, Ash recently surveyed 200 trans and non-binary people about the impact of the new voter ID rules and found that 25% of respondents are now less likely to vote due to the changes.

“I’m someone who had knowledge of the process and could afford to apply for a passport and pay the tracking fees. For other trans people, as we saw in our research, the combination of costs and bureaucracy may make accessing ID to vote in person very difficult, or even impossible,” Ash said.

The research showed that although 86% of participants predominantly voted in person in the past, only 68% planned to do so in the future. Almost two thirds of those surveyed said they did not feel comfortable showing photo ID to others.

One participant told the researchers that despite voting in every general election since 2005, the new rules mean she would no longer do so.

“I have been challenged when showing photo ID before because I am a woman with a feminine name and female gender marker on my ID, but I have quite a masculine appearance. I have decided not to vote in any UK elections going forward, because I am frightened of getting into a confrontation over my ID in the polling station,” she said.

Research by the charities Stonewall and the LGBT Foundation found that LGBTQ+ people are three times more likely than the general population to not have useable photo ID, with 96% of trans and non-binary respondents encountering at least one barrier to accessing it.

Earlier this year, Alice*, who is disabled and has no photographic ID, started legal proceedings against the government for failing to properly assess how the rules affect marginalised groups.

In a letter to Michael Gove, the Good Law Practice, acting on Alice’s behalf, said her lack of ID is “directly linked to her disabilities and her status as a trans woman”.

“[Alice] strongly wishes to vote in the upcoming elections… [she] is concerned not only by the potential consequences of these decisions for herself, but for the position of other voters and potential voters – particularly those from relevant groups who are not aware of or not able to comply with the current ID requirements,” the letter said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Levelling Up told TBIJ the government was committed to “ensuring everyone can have their say in democracy”.

“Individual electoral registration has stopped fraud and ensured a more accurate register. The 2019 general election was contested on the largest ever electoral register,” they said.

“As recommended by the independent Electoral Commission, we have introduced identification for voting in person across Great Britain, mirroring long-standing arrangements in Northern Ireland. 99.75% of English voters in the polling station cast their vote successfully at local elections in May last year and councils will provide free identification certificates to anyone who asks.”

*Name has been changed to protect her identity

As part of our Trans+ Voices project we would like to hear from people who are concerned about new voter ID ahead of the local elections in May and the general election later this year. If you would like to share your thoughts with us please email [email protected]

Reporter: Natalie Bloom
Bureau Local editor: Gareth Davies
Deputy editor: Katie Mark
Editor: Franz Wild
Production editor: Frankie Goodway
Fact checker: Gareth Davies