A trans woman in Swissvale was told this morning to go home and return with her official name-change paperwork before being given the right to vote. Jesse Rise, a 33-year-old Swissvale resident and registered Democrat, arrived at her polling place in the Swissvale Municipal Building this morning with her voter-registration card.
The card contained her name, Jesse Rise, and all other necessary information, like address, voting district, etc. This was her first time voting in Swissvale, and the poll worker then asked her a photo ID. Rise showed the worker her state-issued photo ID, which contained her old name and her former male gender identity. (Rise started her transition at the beginning of 2015 and officially filed for a name change in March 2016.)
Rise was then asked to show official documentation on her legal name change, which she admits made her irritated, but she still went home to procure the documentation. Upon her return to the polling place with three official forms of ID, she was allowed to vote.
“That was one of concerns in terms of us wanting to change photo ID law, if you had male name, and a female identity,” says Sara Rose, staff attorney at the Pittsburgh office of the ACLU.
Rose says that showing the voter registration card is sufficient when voting, even if it is the first time at a poll location. Rose applauds Rise’s determination in casting her vote. “A lot of people would not go home to get their name change document, that is absurd,” says Rose. “I am glad she was ultimately allowed to vote, but I don’t want other people to have to go through this.”
Rise said that the poll workers asking for her photo ID “seemed automatic,” but she did not notice the poll workers asking others in line for their photo IDs. She also says the poll workers specifically asked for a photo ID, and not any other form of identification and proof of address, like a utility bill. Rise says they asked her partner, who is a trans male, for his photo ID too. Her partner has lived in Swissvale for two years, but this was his first time voting at that location.
Although no statewide LGBT non-discrimination laws currently exist, Allegheny County is one of 34 local governments that contain anti-discrimination laws for LGBT people. But Rose says that state voting law would actually supersede any need to apply those laws in this case. But Rose adds: “The voter registration card is sufficient.”
Rose says there is still some lingering confusion among poll workers on requiring photo IDs for voting since the passage and repeal of the state’s voter ID law a few years ago. She says this confusion on what documentation is required or not required happens a lot, and that protocols should be delivered more effectively to poll workers. Instead of poll workers taking the request for documentation into their own hands, like in Rise’s case, poll workers should call their county’s election department when there is confusion, says Rose.
Rise is attempting to stay positive after this experience. She moved from Mt. Oliver last year because her family members did not accept her choice to transition, but says she is looking to become more involved in the LGBT community, including working with trans people suffering from mental health problems.
“I am gonna stay strong in voting, and I am going to try to find ways to become more of an advocate,” says Rise.