The revelation was made Tuesday during a Commonwealth Court hearing on the contentious new law, which would require voters to present a valid government ID each time they vote.
At the hearing, which was held to examine the process by which the state would issue voter-ID cards for those who currently lack an eligible ID, Kurt Meyers, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said the state plans to ease restrictions, including the lifting of the gender designation.
Voters will also not need to present proof of residence to obtain the card.
David Rosenblum, Mazzoni Center legal director who, with Equality Pennsylvania executive director Ted Martin, issued a letter to Secretary of Commonwealth Carol Aichele calling for attention to the transgender-related issues surrounding voter ID, said the move is groundbreaking.
“To my knowledge, this if the first time the state has ever issued an ID where gender doesn’t matter,” Rosenblum said.
While the card will be marked for “voting-purposes only,” Rosenblum said its significance cannot be overlooked.
“If a transgender person goes to a bar, the bouncer is not going to look at the ID and turn them away because the card is for voting. This will be a government-issued ID card with your name and your picture. It’s a way for transgender people to have an ID card and not have to worry about it having an inconsistent gender.”
Rosenblum said he was “stunned” that the change was made so quietly, with little fanfare.
Sara Mullen, associate director of American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania — which is spearheading the legal challenge of the law — also welcomed the change.
“We are happy this voter-ID debacle has at least resulted in one silver lining with the state removing the gender designation from the IDs,” she said. “We hope this will lead to positive changes in the future for other PennDOT-issued IDs.”
In what opponents of the law are hailing as a good sign, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson told the attorneys arguing the case this week that he was giving them a “heads-up” that there is a “possibility there could be an injunction here.”
If Simpson issues an injunction, the law would be put on hold until after the Nov. 6 election. The hearing was scheduled to continue Thursday, and Simpson will rule by Oct. 2.
The judge this past summer allowed the law to stand after ACLU brought a suit on behalf of a number of voters who could be kept from the polls, but the state Supreme Court earlier this month sent the case back to Simpson, instructing him to analyze the process by which voters can obtain alternate ID to vote.
Opponents say the law, passed by Republicans, was designed to lessen the Democratic vote. If implemented by the upcoming election, critics say, it could keep already-disenfranchised populations — minorities, the poor and the elderly — from the polls.
The impact on transgender and gender nonconforming voters is also expected to be negative.
University of California thinktank Williams Institute has estimated that more than 5,500 transgender voters in Pennsylvania lack identification that reflects their current name or gender.
Rosenblum said he’s hoping Simpson will issue the injunction necessary to stop the law’s implementation.
“This could have an impact on trans people, as well as older people, students. The state has said that there is no real fear of voter fraud, which makes this seem even more unnecessarily political,” Rosenblum said.
He added that an ID law could feasibly be revisited in the future, but should not be rushed before the election.
“If the state wants to implement a photo-ID requirement, then do it, but it has to be phased in over time so people can understand the documentation and so that a process is in place. Right now, there is so much confusion and the rules are literally changing on a daily basis. We’re relying on the whims of bureaucrats to get this all worked out in a very short period of time. It’s just unreasonable to expect them to be able to process all of the people who would need a new ID that complies with the law.”