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Maryland voter registration to allow for 'X' gender identity

Maryland voter registration to allow for 'X' gender identity
The Maryland State Board of Elections will soon allow voters to choose "X" or "unspecified" as their gender, instead of male or female. In this 2018 file photo, voters take ballots to a scanner inside a voting station at Elkridge Elementary School in Howard County. (Brian Krista / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The Maryland State Board of Elections will soon allow people to choose "X" or "unspecified" as a gender, instead of male or female, on their voter registration.

The move comes as state Motor Vehicle Administration prepares to offer the third option for gender on driver’s licenses and state identification cards, in response to a new state law.

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Some lawmakers and advocates in the LGBTQ community have pushed for government agencies to recognize residents who are “nonbinary” — meaning they don’t identify as either male or female. Driver’s licenses and ID cards are particularly important to individuals who are nonbinary, as they are used frequently — not only for driving, but also for identification in banking, housing and employment.

A poll in March found lackluster support for the idea among Maryland voters, with just 37% favoring adding the gender-neutral option to licenses. Fifty-one percent of those polled were opposed.

Still, state lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year requiring the MVA to offer the option starting Oct. 1. The vote came largely along party lines, with mostly Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, allowed the measure to become law without his signature.

“I think that government forms should reflect the diversity of the people that the government is serving and representing, and this is one way of reflecting that,” said Del. Julie Palakovich Carr, a Montgomery County Democrat who asked state elections officials to consider making the corresponding change.

Palakovich Carr said she got the idea while taking a training class from Montgomery County elections officials for registering voters. The cities of Gaithersburg and Rockville have elections coming up this fall, and Palakovich Carr plans to register voters in hopes of boosting participation.

“In looking at the voter registration forms, I saw that gender is a required field and the only options are ‘M’ or ‘F,’ ” Palakovich Carr said.

The state’s elections board voted unanimously at its meeting last week to authorize the elections staff to make the necessary changes, said David J. McManus Jr., the board chairman. There was no opposition, and no one raised concerns, he said.

Palakovich Carr said she was delighted.

“Hopefully, other agencies will take a look at their forms and be proactive about it, too,” she said.

McManus said it made sense to follow the MVA’s lead in adding the “X” gender designation.

“We get a lot of voter registration applications from them. Even though the statute didn’t require us to do it, it made sense to make our application look as much like theirs,” he said.

Elections officials will continue to use the paper applications that they already have on hand, but the next batch that’s printed will include gender options of “F,” “M” and “X.”

The online voter registration system is likely to be updated sooner, McManus said.

“There’s no fiscal impact to it,” McManus said. “It’s just a form and we will add one little piece for it.”

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