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- States each set their own laws about voter identification requirements and name changes for voter registration. Procedures vary; some states make automatic changes while others don’t.
- The Brennan Center found in 2006 that approximately 66% of voting-eligible women have a document with a current legal name. The survey didn’t ask women whether they were prevented from voting as a result of lacking an ID with their current name.
The Williams Institute at UCLA found that about 42% of transgender adults eligible to vote in 2020 in states that don't vote entirely by mail had no ID documents that reflected their correct name or gender. But the report did not contain a count of transgender adults who were not able to cast a ballot due to voter ID requirements.
President Joe Biden has pointed a finger at states that have enacted new restrictions on voting, saying that some laws disproportionately hurt different groups of Americans, including women.
"Women are also disproportionately impacted by voter ID laws — especially married women who change their names, or those whose IDs do not accurately reflect their gender," Biden said in an Aug. 26 proclamation on Women’s Equality Day.
A reader asked us to check out Biden’s claim. Biden’s point is rooted in the fact the majority of U.S. women change their names when they get married, unlike men. Some women change their name again after they get divorced. This means that women are much more likely than men to have name variations between their IDs and their voter registrations.
How this plays out for women can vary depending on each state’s laws.
For example, in Texas, voters who have a substantially similar name on their registration and ID do not have to update their records and can sign an affidavit to vote. Indiana law, on the other hand, requires that the name on the ID be the same as the name in the individual's voter registration record. The majority of states have some type of voter IDrequirement, and the trend over recent years has been more strict procedures.
"Across all states there are some additional hurdles women have to jump over if they get married and change their name," said Tammy Patrick, an elections expert at the Democracy Fund. "It’s just a question of how easy that transition is and how many hurdles."
For transgender women, the research we found estimates the number of adults who lack IDs that reflect their current name or gender — not how many were blocked from voting as a result.
Brennan Center found many women lack document with current legal name
The White House pointed to a 2006 telephone survey of 987 voting-age citizens conducted for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, one of the top national advocates for expanding voting rights. The survey asked voters questions about their IDs, such as if their photo ID had their current name, as opposed to their maiden name.
The Brennan Center found that 66% of voting-age women with ready access to any proof of citizenship had a document with their current legal name. (The survey didn’t ask women if they were prevented from voting as a result of lacking an ID with their current name.)
The Brennan Center has not repeated that survey since 2006, but it did point to more recent examples of women who changed their names and were flagged at the polls as a result of voter ID rules.
A TV station reported in 2013 that a Texas district judge, Sandra Watts, had to sign an affidavit affirming her identity after a poll official noticed that she had one name shown as her middle name on her driver’s license and a different middle name on her voter registration card. One of the middle names was her maiden name.
"What I have used for voter registration and identification for the last 52 years was not sufficient yesterday when I went to vote," Watts said.
Watts told PolitiFact: "My legal name is Sandra Lee Watts; however, when I married in 1964, Texas automatically changed the name on my driver’s license using my maiden name as my middle name. Since 1964, my driver’s license reflects the name of Sandra Mathison Watts. That name was not identical to my name on my voter registration and that presented a problem at the time I went to vote."
Wendy Davis, a Texas state senator and candidate for governor in 2013, also had to sign an affidavit because her driver’s license included her maiden name while her registration record did not. Davis had authored the amendment to give voters the affidavit option if their names were substantially similar.
But women were not the only ones who were directed to sign an affidavit. Greg Abbott, then the Texas attorney general and now governor, also signed an affidavit in 2013 when he voted, because his driver’s license showed that his name was Gregory Wayne Abbott while on voter rolls he was listed as Greg Abbott.
What state laws say about name changes
Some states have a more efficient process than others for name changes, said Amber McReynolds, founding CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute & Coalition.
The process can be relatively smooth for automatic voter registration states — places where citizens can register to vote while getting their driver's license. In other states, voters need to take separate steps to update their voter registration.
Some voters may face a time crunch to update their records if they get married close to Election Day.
"Voters do not plan their weddings around elections," said McReynolds, former director of elections for the city of Denver.
Women who change their last names generally update their names on a variety of documents, and not solely their voter registration. Name variations on documents can create problems for women when they apply for a driver’s license under the federal Real ID rules.
Most voter registration systems now happen online or at state motor vehicle offices, said Matthew Weil, an expert on elections at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
"If a woman changing her name goes through the steps to change her last name — going to SSA, going to the DMV, etc. — I doubt that there are many who are registering to vote with a new last name before that happens," Weil said.
Report shows many transgender individuals lack an ID that matches their gender
The second part of Biden’s statement pertained to voters whose IDs do not match their gender. The White House pointed to an article by the Brennan Center that cited data from the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA School of Law. The institute published a report in February 2020 about the potential for transgender citizens to encouter obstacles to voting due to identification documents that do not match their gender.
The report estimated that 965,350 transgender adults would be eligible to vote in the 2020 general election and that about 42% of those in the states that do not vote entirely by mail — 378,450 — had no identification documents that reflected their correct name or gender.
The report draws on the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, as well as Census data and information on voter ID laws from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The 2015 survey showed that some transgender people reported having difficulty at the polls, but Herman was not aware of any entity that had data on how many were barred from voting.
Some states have taken steps to make the process easier for transgender residents to update their documents, according to the Brennan Center. For example, Maine makes it free for nonbinary individuals to change the gender designation on their IDs.
Women vote at higher rates than men
A reader who asked us to fact-check Biden’s statement pointed to research showing that women report voting at higher rates than men and support voter ID. We found those points aren’t mutually exclusive: For decades, women have reported higher voting rates than men, and women (as well as men) tell pollsters they support voter ID.
In 2020 a higher share of women (68.4%) than men (65%) turned out to vote, according to a survey by the Census Bureau. The Pew Research Center and Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics have documented that in recent decades women have reported voting at higher rates than men.
Researchers cite various factors in the gender gap in turnout, such as that women "are more likely to rely on government services and are often more directly affected by highly debated issues like reproductive rights, child care/family leave, among others," said Kelly Dittmar, a Rutgers political scientist.
Experts on election laws, including Wendy Weiser at the Brennan Center, said both things are true: Voter ID affects women more than men, and women have higher turnout rates at the ballot box.
"Overall turnout does not negate facts about disproportionate burdens," Weiser said. "It is entirely possible (and in this case, likely) that women are more likely to vote overall, and that the gender turnout differential would have been even greater if there weren’t burdens that disproportionately affected women."
Biden said, "Women are also disproportionately impacted by voter ID laws — especially married women who change their names, or those whose IDs do not accurately reflect their gender."
The White House pointed to a 2006 survey that found 66% of voting-eligible women have a document with their current legal name. But the survey didn’t ask women if they were prevented from voting as a result of lacking an ID with their current name.
The Williams Institute at UCLA found that about 42% of transgender adults eligible to vote in 2020 in states that don't vote entirely by mail had no ID documents that reflect their correct name or gender. But the report did not contain a count of trans adults who were not able to cast a ballot due to voter ID.
Women are significantly more likely to change their name than men, so they are more likely to end up with name variations between their voter registration and their IDs. And women are more likely than men to go through a process to update their documents with their new name, but the process can vary by state.
We rate the claim Mostly True.
White House, A Proclamation on Women’s Equality Day, Aug. 26 2021
Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law, Citizens without proof, November 2006
Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law, How Voter ID Laws Threaten Transgender Voters, Nov. 20, 2020
Census, 2020 Presidential Election Voting and Registration Tables Now Available, April 29, 2021
Pew Research Center, Men and women in the U.S. continue to differ in voter turnout rate, party identification, Aug. 18, 2020
Center for American Women in Politics, Gender Differences in Voter Turnout, Accessed Sept. 1, 2021
Election Assistance Commission, Election Administration and Voting Survey final report, 2020 election
New York Times, Maiden Names, on the Rise Again, June 28, 2015
Williams Institute School of Law at UCLA, The potential impact of voter identification laws on transgender voters in the 2020 general election, February 2020
Williams Institute School of Law at UCLA, Gender Marker Changes on State ID Documents: State-Level Policy Impacts, June 2021
Smithsonian Magazine, How Women Vote: Separating Myth From Reality, Oct. 6, 2020
Washington Post, Five reasons voter identification bills disproportionately impact women, Nov. 5, 2013
League of Women Voters, How Voter ID Laws Disproportionately Impact Women – And What We’re Doing About It,Jan. 2, 2014
California Secretary of State, Secretary of State Alex Padilla Partners with Equality California Institute to Protect Voting Rights of Transgender Californians in 2020, Oct. 25, 2019
Monmouth University poll, June 2021
National Immigration Law Center, Name Variations in Proof Documents Create Major Headaches for Many Low-Income Driver’s License Applicants, May 11, 2017
Austin American-Statesman, Voter ID rollout called smooth, Oct. 29, 2013
Austin American-Statesman, Abbott to sign affidavit to vote, thanks to Davis provision, Oct. 30, 2013
NPR, Texas' Voter ID Law Creates A Problem For Some Women, Oct. 30, 2013
Indiana, Photo Identification Requirements to Vote, Accessed Sept. 1, 2021
Kera News, New Voter ID Law Forces Governor Candidate Wendy Davis To Sign Affidavit To Vote, Oct. 28, 2013
Florida statutes, 101.045, Accessed Sept. 1, 2021
Traverse City Record Eagle, Real ID, real hassle, Sept. 23, 2018
Concord Monitor, Getting a Real ID license stumbles over name change due to marriage – middle name, not the last, Dec. 14, 2019
PolitiFact, No evidence for claim that Texas voter ID law tries to disenfranchise women and defeat Wendy Davis, Oct. 31, 2013
Email interview, Emilie Simons, White House spokesperson, Aug. 31, 2021
Email interview, Kelly Dittmar, associate professor of political science, Rutgers-Camden Director of Research and Scholar, Center for American Women and Politics, Aug. 30, 2021
Email interview, Jenna Dresner, California Secretary of State spokesperson, Aug. 30, 2021
Email interview, Amber McReynolds, Founding CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, Aug. 30, 2021
Email interview, Jody Herman, senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute at UCLA, Aug. 30, 2021
Email and telephone interview, Tammy Patrick, senior advisor to the elections program at Democracy Fund, Sept. 1, 2021
Email interview, Trey Grayson, former Kentucky Secretary of state and former president of the National Association of Secretaries of State and current managing director of CivicPoint, Aug. 31, 2021
Telephone interview, Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program Brennan Center for Justice at NYU school of law, Aug. 30, 2021
Email interview, David Daley, senior fellow at FairVote, Aug. 30, 2021
Email interview, Sophia Solis, spokesperson for the Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, Aug. 31, 2021
Email interview, Gerri Kramer, spokesperson for the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer, Aug. 30, 2021
Email interview, Reid Magney, spokesperson for the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Aug. 30, 2021
Email interview, Angela Nussmeyer, co-director of the Indiana Election Division, Sept. 1, 2021
Email interview, Matthew Weil, director of the elections project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Aug. 31, 2021
Email interview, Sandra Watts, presiding judge of the 117th District Court in Nueces County Texas, Sept. 1, 2021
Email interview, Tracy Wimmer, spokesperson for Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Aug. 31, 2021
Email interview, Sam Taylor, spokesperson for the Texas Secretary of State, Sept. 1, 2021
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