Kansas Name Change Project attorney Ellen Bertels provides information at Wichita's Big Gay Market on June 26. The project helps Kansans correct their names and gender markers on government documents. (Provided photo)

With Election Day around the corner, Kansas residents are getting their documents in order as they prepare to vote. Kansas has required specific forms of voter ID since 2012.

For transgender voters, photo ID laws can raise concerns about their safety at poll sites and the ability to have their votes counted — particularly if their ID lists a name and gender that doesn’t match their presentation.

Transgender voters still have time before the election to update the gender and name listed on a photo ID. The Beacon spoke with legal experts about how the process works.

Changing a gender marker in Kansas

For years, it was nearly impossible to change the gender marker on a Kansas birth certificate. But after a lawsuit in 2019, the requirements became less restrictive.

Ellen Bertels, an attorney at the Kansas Name Change Project, said most people start with correcting their birth certificate. She said it’s considered a “breeder document,” meaning that other legal documents are derived from it, including a driver’s license or passport. Once a court adjusts the birth certificate, the other documents easily follow.

To begin the process, a person born in Kansas must submit three documents to the state’s Office of Vital Statistics.

The first of these is a notarized document that verifies the applicant’s identity.

The second is an application, including the completed form, a photocopy of a current legal photo ID and the application fee, which is $15, plus another $15 to order a copy of the corrected birth certificate. 

The third document is a signed letter from a health care or mental health provider, which could include a nurse, physician, psychiatrist or psychologist. The applicant must be a patient of this professional, and the letter must say that the updated gender marker reflects the true gender identity of the applicant.

“Anecdotally, I’ve heard good things from my clients,” Bertels said. “I hear that they’re coming back in like three or four weeks these days.”

When changing the birth certificate is not possible, Bertels said that there is also an administrative option to adjust a Kansas driver’s license. For people interested in this option, she said the Kansas Legal Services online guide can be useful.

Bertels said that while a gender marker or name change can solve some problems, it could possibly cause a disruption if a person is receiving Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare or other government benefits. It’s a good idea for people in that position to consult with a legal aid clinic, she said. She also suggested calling the government agency directly to see if they have a general practice.

“If it’s timed poorly, it can cause you to have a delay in services,” Bertels said. “So your disability check is a little bit late or doesn’t come that month, which is really devastating to some folks.”

Name change in Kansas costs $200 or more

If a person’s name also needs updating, this process is slightly more complicated and more expensive — usually around $200 in most Kansas counties. The filing fee can be waived if the applicant falls within the federal poverty guidelines.

To start this process, applicants should file a petition at the clerk’s office of the county courthouse.

“It’s not like a courtroom drama,” Bertels said. “You can either do it in a way where you don’t have to show up in court personally, or you only show up for a couple minutes. How that all works depends on what county you live in.”

Meredith Schnug, the associate director of the Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Kansas, said it’s feasible to go through this process without a lawyer, though some people prefer to have a lawyer handle it for them. She said it’s rare for a court to deny a name change.

“As long as the court has jurisdiction, in other words, the person’s been in Kansas for 60 days, and there’s reasonable cause for the change of name, then the order should be granted,” Schnug said.

Finally, Kansas has a publication requirement for name changes. The cost varies from county to county, depending on how the county’s legal publication sets its fee. However, applicants can also ask to send a notice of name change by certified mail instead, as a more private and less expensive option.

Passports have no gender marker requirements

Bertels said that the federal government has recently simplified the gender change process for passports, making it one of the easiest documents to adjust. This makes it a good option for people who can’t adjust their birth certificates.

“Passports now have an X marker (option),” she said. “Gender markers on passports are also now self-determined, so you basically get to choose your own. You don’t have to provide any evidence.”

She said that whenever a person applies for a U.S. passport, there should now be a place for them to circle the gender that they want displayed on their passport, including an M, F or X.

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