Voter ID Laws Put Women’s Votes at Risk

If we want women’s voices to be heard this November, we need to ensure they can show up to vote with confidence, knowing they have the right form of ID their vote will be counted.

Signs greet voters at the Ruckersville Volunteer Fire Company vote location in Ruckersville, Va., on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

One of the major stories of this midterm election season is the remarkable wave of women who are registering to vote. In some states, women constitute the vast majority of new registrants and at a level that voter registration experts say they’ve never seen before. Regardless of partisan affiliation, the fact that increasing numbers of women—particularly young women—are actively engaging in our democracy is something we should all be able to celebrate. 

Unfortunately, millions of American women, including these newly registered voters, are currently at risk of being prevented from casting a ballot that counts. The reason? Voter ID laws that create additional barriers and cause confusion and uncertainty about people’s ability to vote. 

Voter ID laws, which exist in some form in 36 states, usually require voters to present an ID at their polling place that matches the name they used when they registered to vote. These laws are becoming increasingly common across the country. A dozen states have passed new or stricter ID laws since 2020 that will be in effect this November.

But an estimated seven out of 10 women change their last name when they get married or divorced. As a result, the ID they present at the polls may not match the name they originally registered to vote with, sometimes many years ago.

Based on current census data, as many as 37 million voting-age women may fall into this category. All these people could be at risk of not being able to cast a ballot that counts in November—not to mention the millions of newly registered women who are excited to vote but may not know about the ID laws in their state.

The barriers that voter ID laws create can be particularly difficult to overcome for trans women. Not only do trans women often face the difficulties involved with voting after a name change, they also experience additional levels of scrutiny as members of the queer community.

At VoteRiders—the nation’s leading nonprofit focused on voter ID education and assistance—our staff across the country talk with their local communities every day about ID. What we hear directly from trans people are countless stories of the discrimination, harassment and stigma they face throughout their lives, including at the ballot box, especially if their gender presentation or name varies from their ID or their original voter registration. The Williams Institute estimates that as many as 203,700 transgender Americans who are eligible to vote may find it difficult to do so this year because of shifting voter ID laws, including nearly 65,000 who could face disenfranchisement in states with strict photo ID requirements. 

As many as 203,700 transgender Americans who are eligible to vote may find it difficult to do so this year because of shifting voter ID laws.

The good news is that there’s a lot we all can do to give at-risk voters the information and support they need to vote this November—and in every election after that. Our staff and thousands of volunteers have worked since 2012 to help millions of voters navigate the confusion of our nation’s patchwork of voter ID laws—everything from disseminating information about voter ID requirements, to making appointments and helping voters get to the DMV to obtain or update the ID they’ll need to vote. And we cover all the costs along the way.

With just two weeks to go until Nov. 8, we’re holding one final virtual volunteer event to send text messages to voters in Georgia to ensure they’re informed about the strict voter ID laws in their state, which became even more restrictive following the state’s passage of a new voting law in 2021. And our work doesn’t stop after the election—day in and day out, all year round, we work with our volunteers to share information about voter ID laws and lay the groundwork to maximize voter participation in future elections. 

But there’s also work we can do within our own communities and social circles to address the barriers that voter ID laws create. We can encourage the women in our lives to get informed on what ID (if any) they need to vote. Some states require a photo ID in order to cast a ballot; others allow a non-photo form of ID, like a utility bill or proof of residence. Still others allow voters’ ballots to count by signing an affidavit or casting a provisional ballot if they don’t have an ID that matches their name on the voter rolls. And some states have no voter ID requirements in place at all for the vast majority of voters. Making sure that women know the precise documents they’ll need on Election Day will ensure they can have their votes counted with minimal bureaucratic hurdles. 

For LGBTQ+ voters specifically, there are resources available to help them overcome the unique barriers they may face at the polls due to voter ID laws. Our #TransPeopleVote initiative, which we launched with our partners at HeadCount, provides state-specific voting and name change information, guidance and direct support to LGBTQ+ people. 

If we want women’s voices to be heard en masse this November, we need to ensure that they can show up to vote with confidence, knowing that they have the right form of ID and that their vote will be successfully counted. In such a critical election, where every single vote matters, it’s more important than ever that we help our friends, neighbors and community members exercise their fundamental freedom to vote. 

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

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Lauren Kunis is the CEO and executive director of VoteRiders, the nation’s leading nonprofit focused on voter ID education and assistance.