British trans people are finding themselves blocked from voting, just four weeks before a UK general election.
One trans person told us the shock they had when they tried to register to vote in the county of Wiltshire, southern England.
They were unable to use the online registration process, because the system requests their national insurance number, which has been marked as ‘protected’ – and therefore unavailable for processing by other systems – by the Tax Office.
They told us: ‘I have never asked the Tax Office to place my records in this category, and had they asked me I would have told them not to. But they never asked: they just went ahead and did it.’
How a trans woman was blocked from registering
Unable to register online, they visited their local county council offices, taking along a range of official proofs of identity, including passport and tenancy agreement.
There, a receptionist ignored their explanation their national insurance number was ‘protected’ and that they could not register to vote online. The receptionist repeatedly told the individual they ‘just needed their national insurance number’.
The same receptionist then asked for the individual’s previous name as well as demanding an explanation of why their status was ‘protected’.
The trans person declined to give the reason. Protected status is a category granted not just to trans people, but to individuals at high risk – informers, prominent public figures, victims of serious crime. Demanding that an individual to divulge such details, such as previous name and protected status, in a public reception area is highly inappropriate, they felt.
A manager then repeated the line given by the receptionist: despite the range of documents provided, without a national insurance number, they could not help.
Being ‘punished for being trans’
The individual feels they are being punished for being trans. And they say the government was warned this was happening shortly before the 2015 general election. At that point, officials within the Cabinet Office gave assurances trans voters would not be penalised.
The issue was raised by Gay Star News in December 2014 after it was discovered that trans voters were being forced to out themselves through the online registration process.
Trans campaigners, including trans Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Helen Belcher, met with senior civil servants in the Cabinet Office team. The civil servants told them they were abandoning plans to make it compulsory to reveal all previous names in order to register as a voter.
The campaigners told the Cabinet Office officials that ‘protected records’ caused problems for trans people. As a result, they promised to take this into account in devising any future registration scheme.
Now it appears this promise has not been kept.
Cabinet Office blames the Electoral Commission
According to the Cabinet Office: ‘Applicants who cannot provide the required personal identifiers or whose personal identifiers cannot be matched and verified against Government or local records will be asked to establish their identity by providing additional documents (such as photo identification).’
However, the Cabinet Office made clear that the Electoral Commission are responsible for making sure this happens.
The Cabinet Office told GSN: ‘It is possible to register to vote without a national insurance number and the Electoral Commission already provides electoral registration 0fficers with comprehensive guidance that outlines the processes that an [officer] should follow if an applicant does not supply them with one.’
In other words, what happened in Wiltshire should not have happened.
Gay Star News informed the Electoral Commission of the incident. And we told them this was not the first time we had come across instances of trans voters being told they could not register to vote. We asked if they were prepared to put out any additional guidance to make sure this does not happen. The Electoral Commission refused.
Meanwhile, Wiltshire County Council claimed the incident was not their fault, as the ‘regulations and process’ were ‘decided by central government’.
However they did add that where an individual did not provide a national insurance number, they would accept other alternatives, including a passport.
But they did not explain why the individual concerned was told that they could not register – even though they attended the council offices in person and with a passport.