Transgender voter sues N.C., Mecklenburg election officials for questioning identity

Politics & Elections

By Bruce Henderson, The Charlotte Observer

A transgender woman sued North Carolina and Mecklenburg County election officials on Feb. 12, claiming she was denied equal protection under state law and endured emotional stress when a Cornelius elections official questioned her identity last November.

The voter, identified as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, said a chief precinct judge demanded to see her identification, which state law doesn’t currently require for voting.

Doe says a lengthy debate ensued, drawing a crowd of onlookers, when she tried to vote from a curbside area for people with disabilities.

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The Cornelius town hall precinct judge, the lawsuit states, said that identification was required “because your face does not match your name.”

Jane Doe reluctantly provided her driver’s license, the complaint says, and was allowed to vote more than an hour after arriving at the site. The episode ended, it says, with Doe “crying and trying to hide” from bystanders around her car.

North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring voter ID in 2018, making it effective this year. But in December a federal court blocked the measure from taking effect, at least for the March 3 primary election.

Transgender activists have said the law, if eventually upheld, will require training of poll workers. Many transgender and gender-nonconforming people are unable to afford legal name changes, including on driver’s licenses, which advocates say could fuel discrimination at the polls.

Faith Fox, the Charlotte lawyer who filed the complaint on behalf of Doe, said her client has identified as female since age 4 and has lived as a female since she was 14. She’s now 28 and is in the process of changing her name legally.

The driver’s license Doe presented to election officials last November has a photo of her, consistent with her female identity, Fox said, but the name on the ID is that of a male.

County elections officials have not responded to the woman’s request for an apology from the precinct judge, Fox said.

The State Board of Elections said it hasn’t been served with the complaint and has no comment. The precinct judge in question was “retrained on the challenge process,” the state board added.

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Mecklenburg County elections director Michael Dickerson could not be immediately reached [on the day the lawsuit was filed], but told reporters in November that the woman was able to vote. Dickerson added that the incident showed the need for poll workers to be aware of voters who may have altered their appearance.

“We have all been through sensitivity training for photo identification,” Dickerson said, recalling a 2016 state law, later overturned, that had also required voter ID. “Especially with the next year coming up, we always want to make sure that we retain the integrity of the process.”

Doe’s lawsuit says transgender voters are especially vulnerable to challenges of their identity “as they are consistently and illegally denied the opportunity to have their appropriate sex or gender designation reflected on any birth certificate or drivers license documents.”

The complaint claims the elections officials violated the state constitution’s equal protection clause, were negligent in their hiring practices and intentionally inflicted emotional distress. It seeks more than $25,000 in damages.

Despite the experience, Fox said Jane Doe is ready to vote again on March 3.

“She’s extremely emotional about it, but she’s determined to vote,” Fox said.

This story was originally published by The Charlotte Observer on Feb. 12, 2020, and is reprinted with permission. qnotes is a member of the Observer’s Charlotte News Alliance.

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