Voting hurdles for transgenders 

Laine DeLaney was nearly unable to vote in this year's midterm elections because of a mix up with her identification.

DeLaney, 36, who came out as a transwoman in 2013, went to the Department of Motor Vehicles earlier this year to change her name on her license. Updating official public records is one of the more mundane aspects of transitioning to a different gender, she says.

While she was at the DMV, she decided to get another government form out of the way.

"When you go to the DMV to get your name changed, one of the things that's provided to you is a voter registration form that you can fill out there," she says. "It's like, 'Since you're here updating this information, we'll update the Board of Elections for you, too.' I'm thinking, 'Yeah, of course. I want to be able to vote without any trouble.'"

Several national LGBT advocacy groups have warned that transgender individuals could be adversely impacted in states with strict voter ID laws. Even though New York isn't one of those states, DeLaney says that she wanted to be safe, which is why she took care of her voter registration early.

"I wanted to make sure the i's were dotted and the t's were crossed," she says.

Voting was particularly important for DeLaney this year because of her support for the state Gender Expression Non-discrimination Act. The bill would outlaw discrimination based on gender identity or expression.

"I'm not a one-issue voter, but I'm not going to vote for anybody who thinks that I shouldn't be treated as a human being," she says. "Right before the election, Governor Cuomo came out in support of [GENDA], so I wanted to vote for him."

DeLaney says that she didn't get updated voter information from the Monroe County Board of Elections, so she thought that the form she completed and turned over to the DMV had taken care of everything.

But when DeLaney showed up at her polling place on Election Day, she says that she was told that she wasn't registered. A call to the Board of Elections didn't sort things out, she says.

"He said, 'Lots of people register to vote at the DMV and the information never gets updated,'" DeLaney says.

She says that she was about to give up when officials at her polling place called the board themselves. Since DeLaney was a registered voter under a different name, she was able to complete an affidavit ballot, which allowed her to vote.

"I honestly don't think it was directed at me personally," she says. "I don't feel like I was discriminated against because I am a transperson. The polling people went out of their way to make sure I could vote. Huge props to them for the respect they showed me."

But there was a snafu someplace, and DeLaney says that she wants people to know that even in progressive states like New York, there can be unexpected obstacles to voting.

Voter rights advocates began cautioning people of color, Hispanics, senior citizens, college students, and low-wage earners last summer that they could face problems at the voting booth if don't have up-to-date government identification.

People in these groups often don't have government-issued photo identification, such as a passport or a driver's license. Some can't afford the fees and others haven't needed it because they don't drive.

The Williams Institute, an LGBT advocacy group, says that transgender individuals should be included in those warnings.

At the time of the midterms, 10 states were enforcing strict voter ID laws. And some states, the Institute says, are unclear about acceptable identification for transgender individuals — which could impact about 24,000 people in those states.

Thomas Ferrarese, Democratic commissioner with the Monroe County BOE, says that he was not aware of any voter registration mix ups with the DMV or problems concerning the transgender community.

"We're very sensitive to that," he says.

Ferrarese recommends that transpeople use only their first initial with their full last name on their voter registration form to avoid confusion. And he suggests that they identify themselves as the gender that they're transitioning to.

DeLaney, a Democrat, could have gone to the Democratic Party offices on University Avenue on election night, Ferrarese says, since they have legal staff on site that can help resolve last-minute problems. He says that eleventh-hour snafus are not that unusual and that most of the time they can be resolved.

"We understand that in the transgender community, this [voting] should be a celebration for them," he says. "Believe me, we're the last people who want to put a crimp on that."

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