For Transgender and Nonbinary Voters, Casting A Ballot Can Come With Some Discomfort
Ty is a 22-year-old who grew up in Manchester and, like a lot of New Hampshire voters, got involved in politics at a young age. They phone-banked and canvassed for Bernie Sanders’ campaign as a high school student in 2016; they also cast their first vote the same year. And as the 2020 general election approaches, Ty’s eager to head back to the polls.
“Honestly, my biggest concern is just the results,” Ty said. “I spend a lot of time listening and researching politics. I'm really politically motivated.”
(Concerned about voting in New Hampshire elections as a transgender or gender-nonconforming resident? Click here for resources that can help.)
Ty uses “he/him” and “they/them” pronouns. NHPR is only using Ty’s first name because they’re concerned that publicly disclosing their nonbinary gender identity to strangers could put their safety at risk.
But as Ty gets ready to cast their ballot this year, they’re also bracing for some discomfort. Ty no longer uses their birth name — what many transgender and nonbinary people refer to as their “deadname” — but that’s still listed as their legal name on the voter checklist.
“It feels to me like I’m almost an imposter,” Ty said. “Because that’s not — the name on the ballot isn’t me, you know? Or at least, how I view myself.”
Gender isn’t a factor in voting eligibility, but questions of identity are central to the voting process. By law, New Hampshire voters are asked to prove they are who they say they are when they register and before casting a ballot. And that simple reality of the state's election rules can bring up a lot of complicated, or even painful, feelings for voters whose legal name or gender marker on official ID documents doesn’t reflect their true identity.
Even if they’ve never been denied the right to vote, some trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming voters in New Hampshire say their experience at the polling place hasn’t always been positive. Some said they’ve been misgendered, challenged on their ID documents or “outed” by information in the voter file.
Michael Markham, of Dover, says it can be especially tough for voters like him, who are made to feel that their very existence is political.
“You go there, and you’re trying to make a difference, you’re trying to vote for your own right, your own safety, your own happiness,” Markham said. “But when you get there, they’re going to automatically misgender you and use the wrong name and use the wrong pronouns.”
NHPR reached out to local election officials across the state to find out more about their experience assisting transgender and gender-nonconforming voters at the polls. Many said they strive to treat all voters equally, but they also said they haven’t received any special training on the nuances of the needs of this community of voters.
The New Hampshire Attorney General’s office said they haven’t received any complaints from transgender or gender-nonconforming voters who had trouble casting a ballot, and all voters should feel welcome at the polls. They also said any voter can contact their office for voting assistance at any time.
In the absence of formal training from state or local election offices, the New Hampshire branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has stepped up to offer their own resources. Palana Belken, who works on trans justice issues for the ACLU, says these issues can discourage people from voting.
“You might be reminded of the name you don’t want to use," Belken said. "Or you may have one of those neighbors of yours, a well-intentioned person who just happens to use a lot of gendered terms — Ma’am, Mr., Sir — and for some people, I think that that’s enough to not show up at the polls."
(Click here for the ACLU-NH's fact sheet: Voting While Transgender)
Despite the discomfort, voters like Ty in Manchester, who we met at the beginning of this story, say they’re feeling more motivated than ever to make their voices heard.
“It still hurts,” Ty said. "But I feel that it’s a necessary evil of being able to do what I can. Like, you know, do my part.”
Ty’s birthday isn’t long after the election. And, this year, their mother is offering to cover the costs of a legal name change. So, they hope that by the next election cycle, it won’t be an issue any more.
Questions About Voting As A Trans or Nonbinary Person? Here's What You Should Know.
The most important thing to know is that no eligible voter can be denied their right to vote because of their gender identity. If you’re at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and live in New Hampshire, you can vote here. (You can also vote in New Hampshire elections if you are temporarily absent from the state but intend to return.)
New Hampshire’s voting laws require voters to prove their identity while registering and before casting a ballot. A voter’s legal name is the one that will be used to check in at the polling place or when casting an absentee ballot, even if that’s no longer the name they use.
“It’s not done with any intent to discriminate or make any voter uncomfortable,” Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Chong Yen explained. “But the law requires our election officials to utilize the information that they have been provided, because they have to verify the legal name of the individual that has been registered to vote and add it to their checklist.”
There are other alternatives available, however, for voters whose names or gender markers aren’t up to date in the voter checklist or other official documents. In lieu of showing a photo ID when registering or voting at the polls, for example, any voter can sign a legal document confirming their identity. If a voter has changed their legal name, they will need to update their voter registration information to reflect that.
For more information on how to navigate these and other questions that might come up for transgender and gender-nonconforming voters, this fact sheet from the ACLU of New Hampshire can help.
Any voter who runs into problems when trying to register or cast a ballot can reach out to the attorney general’s election hotline for help at 1-866-868-3703 (1-866-VOTER03) or firstname.lastname@example.org.