Trans people now face a big new obstacle to exercising their right to vote

The requirement for voters to show photo ID at polling stations adds to existing problems faced by trans people when they try to register to vote

This general election will be the first to require voters to show photo ID since Boris Johnson’s government changed the law in 2022. I’ve never understood why they did. Voter fraud in the UK is extremely rare. It seems like a solution looking for a problem.

In principle though, maybe there’s not all that much to dislike? However when you look into it, it’s obvious there is. And one group of voters negatively impacted is trans people – who already faced barriers to voting. When trans people take steps to start living as who we truly are (known as transitioning), pretty much every one of us changes our name and updates our identity documents to reflect this.

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While, in most cases, this can be done simply by getting in touch with the relevant places to let them know you’ve transitioned (for example with your driving licence and medical records), it’s sometimes more complicated. Like with the Department for Work and Pensions, which will update your name, but won’t update your sex, unless you have a gender recognition certificate. And getting a certificate is difficult, intrusive, and expensive, so many trans people don’t have one.

This is the first general election at which voters will be required to show an acceptable form of photographic identification (Picture: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)This is the first general election at which voters will be required to show an acceptable form of photographic identification (Picture: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)
This is the first general election at which voters will be required to show an acceptable form of photographic identification (Picture: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)
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Hostility and discrimination

This then puts you in a difficult situation if you need to speak to the DWP. If your name on file is “Ms Sarah Smith” and your sex is “Male”, that’s going to tell anyone who sees it that you’re trans. Trans people want to have a choice about who we share that information with. Far too many of us have faced hostility and discrimination simply because of who we are.

To get around this, the DWP makes your record private, so only a tiny number of staff can access it. That’s where problems with voting come in. To register, your local electoral office uses your National Insurance number, which now they can’t find to check. We’ve been contacted by numerous trans people across the years who have been unable to register to vote.

If you’ve passed the registration hurdle, voter ID adds a new one. Updating ID is expensive and time-consuming. Lots of trans people have some ID still showing their old name, or with a photo that no longer resembles them, as they’ve made significant changes to their appearance.

Staying at home

This then poses an obvious problem. How to explain any differences at the polling station? Might you be turned away? This issue isn’t imagined – it’s happened in England. Say you can explain, will your neighbour be queuing behind you? Does the ID feel so out of step with who you are that you don’t want to use it?

Suddenly, staying at home might seem like the better option – some 25 per cent of trans people say they are less likely to vote because of voter ID rules.

Fortunately, there are some solutions, such as applying for a free voter authority certificate. The deadline to apply, for this election, is June 26. Scottish Trans has information for trans people worried about voting on our website.

But despite some workarounds, it’s frustrating this extra barrier exists at all. And trans people are not the only ones impacted, so are younger people, disabled people, and poorer people. Far from protecting our democracy, voter ID shuts people out of it.

Vic Valentine is manager of Scottish Trans

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