For trans and gender nonconforming people, the introduction of photo Voter ID may present barriers to participating in elections. Here we explain exactly what the Elections Act (2022) means for trans and non-binary people and how to make sure you can cast your vote in upcoming elections.

What the new law says

The Elections Act (2022) is now in force, meaning the changes it makes to voting rights apply to all future elections. 

The legislation makes it compulsory for anyone casting a ballot at a polling station to provide an accepted form of photo ID to prove who they are.

You won't be allowed to cast your vote if:

  • You can’t produce an accepted photo ID
  • The officer at the polling station thinks there is “a reasonable doubt” that you aren’t the person you claim to be, based on your photo ID
  • The term “reasonable doubt” is not clarified, which leaves the decision at the discretion of the officers and clerks at polling stations.
  • If your name, appearance, or gender expression appear different to the photo ID you’re using, this could potentially prevent you from being given a ballot paper.
  • The law makes no specific reference to gender markers and photo Voter ID. In fact, many of the forms of photo Voter ID that are accepted don’t include any information about the holder’s gender.

Do I need a new photo ID to vote?

There is no clear-cut answer as to whether a trans person needs a new photo ID to vote, not only because the wording of the Elections Act isn’t specific; your appearance may have changed drastically since your last photo ID was issued, or you might have changed your name socially, but not legally.

Because the acceptance of photo ID by an election officer hinges on “reasonable doubt”, the information below is advisory.

Here are some situations that could prevent you from voting where you may need new photo ID:

  • You’ve legally changed your name and the name on your photo ID is different to the name listed on the electoral register, i.e the name you used when you registered to vote, which the officer clerk checks at the polling station.
  • Your appearance, for whatever reason, creates a “reasonable doubt” as to your identity according to the election officer. 
    In these situations, it may be advisable to apply for a new photo ID that reflects your new legal name and / or appearance or a free
  • Voter Authority Certificate. Where the name on your photo ID is different to that on the electoral register, you can bring a document with you that proves you have changed your name, and your photo ID should be accepted.

Go here to see how to apply for all accepted forms of photo ID. The list includes notes for trans people, and whether each form of photo ID displays a gender marker.

You probably don’t need to get new photo ID if:

  • You are using a different name socially, but you haven’t legally changed your name
  • Your current photo ID is a recent picture of you and your gender expression / appearance hasn’t changed and doesn’t tend to fluctuate.

Your right to privacy

If for whatever reason you would rather present your identification to the officer at the polling station away from other people, you have the right to present it privately.

Schedule 1 of the Elections Act (the part that talks about photo ID) makes this explicit:

“The presiding officer or clerk must arrange for the voter to produce any document in a private area of the polling station if the voter so requests, and, in such a case, must ensure that no other persons witness the production except as permitted by the voter.”

This means that you can ask to show your identification away from other voters and officers / clerks.

No one apart from the presiding officer or clerk is allowed to inspect your photo ID without your express permission. This is also explicitly stated in Schedule 1 of the Elections Act. This means that the person behind the desk at a polling station can’t pass around your photo ID to ask for a second opinion, or show it to anyone else:

“No person other than the presiding officer or a clerk may inspect a document produced as proof of a voter’s identity, except as permitted by the voter.”

For a more detailed view of your rights when voting, go here.

The Free Voter Authority Certificate

An easy way to avoid many of the above issues is to apply for a new form of photo ID made specifically for elections called the free Voter Authority Certificate. It’s free, the application only requires basic information, and the document doesn’t include your gender, unlike many other forms of accepted photo ID like passports and driving licenses which require you to supply additional documents like birth certificates.

Find out more about the free Voter Authority Certificate, and where to apply.

I’m mid-transition, when is the best time to get a new photo ID to vote?

If you’re transitioning and in the process of legally changing your name, or having gender confirmation surgery, or significantly changing your gender expression, then you might decide to wait to get a new photo ID so that your photo and other details are up to date.

Note: as stated above, if you have proof of your legal name change, you can bring that proof with you to the polling station to show that and photo ID with your old name is valid.

For trans and gender-nonconforming Londoners, the next time they may be able to vote are:

  • May 2024 Mayor of London and London Assembly Elections
  • Any council or parliamentary by-election taking place before May 2024
  • Whichever comes first, give yourself ample time before these dates to register to vote, and acquire an accepted form of photo ID. 

For advice on a case-by-case situation, you might want to contact the Electoral Commission helpline at 0800 328 0280 or your borough electoral services - you can find their contact details here.

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