Palana Belken knows from firsthand experience that trying to navigate the voter registration process can sometimes be daunting if you identify as transgender.
“I'll use my own case, for example,” said Belken, who is the Transgender Education and Advocacy Program Organizer with the ACLU of New Hampshire. “I have a state ID with an updated name, and gender marker.”
But other documents she might rely on to prove her voting eligibility at her local polling place list different details: Her passport lists a female gender marker but a name that isn’t anything like her current one, while she says her birth certificate is “all old information.”
“A lot of people end up with these patchworks of documents,” Belken said, adding that there can be both financial and legal hurdles to keeping such records up to date. “Some of them are updated, some of them are halfway there, some of them have not even been touched.”
In an effort to educate others who might be questioning what to do when asked to prove their identity at the polls, Belken and an ACLU of New Hampshire staff attorney are hosting a pair of “Know Your Rights: Voting While Transgender” forums this week. While the workshops are geared toward helping people who are transgender or gender non-conforming, they are open to anyone who’s interested and free to attend.
One is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Portsmouth Public Library, and another is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. at New England College in Concord.
For those who can’t attend this week’s forums, the ACLU of New Hampshire compiled this explainer covering some of the questions people who identify as transgender commonly run into when trying to vote. (Belken said they verified the accuracy of this information with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office to make sure their advice was correct.)
“Part of the reason I wanted to put this presentation together is that I've heard a lot of people in recent years, the last five years, who have regularly — every time they've gone to vote — they've been challenged on it,” Belken said. That kind of experience, she added, can discourage people from wanting to return to the polls in the future.
At the same time, Belken said there are some features of New Hampshire’s voting laws that ensure people who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming can still be able to vote even if they run into pushback from pollworkers. New Hampshire allows voters who cannot prove their identity at the polls to sign an affidavit attesting that they are who they say they are — that way, they aren’t turned away and can still cast a ballot on Election Day.
With so many critical policy issues at stake at the state and federal level, Belken said it’s important for transgender and gender non-conforming people — and their allies — to know how to make their voices heard at the ballot box.
“It is really more important than ever to say that you're here and you want representation that represents you,” Belken said.