Trans candidate in Ohio may be disqualified for not disclosing previous name

A transgender candidate, running for a seat in the Republican-majority Ohio House, is facing the possibility of being disqualified from the ballot due to the omission of her former name on circulating petitions.

The Mercer County Board of Elections is scheduled to hold a vote on Thursday to determine the eligibility of Arienne Childrey, a Democrat from Auglaize County. Childrey is one of four transgender individuals running for the Legislature. The issue at hand is whether Childrey’s failure to disclose her previous name, also known as her deadname, on her petition paperwork affects her eligibility to run.

In Ohio, there is a little-known elections law that requires candidates to disclose any name changes within the past five years on their petitions paperwork. This law, which is unfamiliar to many state elections officials, does not appear in the 33-page candidate requirement guide. Furthermore, there is no designated space on the petition paperwork for candidates to list any former names, excluding those resulting from marriage.

Childrey, who made the decision to change her name legally in 2020, expressed that she would have willingly given her previous name if she had been aware of the requirement.

“I would have completed all the necessary paperwork because, ultimately, there is something more significant than my own pride – and that is advocating for and supporting this community,” Childrey expressed, emphasizing the importance of fighting for the betterment of the community.

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For several decades, the law has been in existence, albeit with minimal usage. Typically, its application arises when candidates express their desire to utilize a nickname.

In a recent statement, Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose expressed his willingness to include the rule in the candidate guide. However, he made it clear that his office is not open to making any modifications to the law. LaRose emphasized that it is the responsibility of the candidates themselves to ensure they adhere to Ohio election law.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine expressed his view on Tuesday, stating that the law should be modified in order to prevent the disqualification of transgender candidates by county boards. However, DeWine did not provide any specific details on how this amendment could be made.

The governor expressed their belief that denying ballot access for that reason is not justified and should be addressed, as they stated in an interview with Cleveland.com’s editorial board.

Ohio Governor DeWine has recently vetoed a proposed ban on gender-affirming care for minors. However, the state House has overridden this veto, and it is expected that the Senate will do the same on January 24th.

All four transgender candidates have been impacted by the law’s requirement to notify about name changes in different ways.

Vanessa Joy, a real estate photographer from Stark County who is running for the Ohio House, faced disqualification for not including her previous name, also known as her “deadname,” in her petition paperwork. Despite appealing the decision, her disqualification was upheld. Currently, Joy is collaborating with legal counsel and the Ohio Democratic Party in an effort to advocate for a change in the existing law.

Joy believes that the current law poses a challenge for transgender individuals aspiring to run for public office. They may not want to disclose their deadname, which is the name they were assigned at birth but does not reflect their true gender identity.

Ari Faber, a Democratic candidate running for the Ohio state Senate from Athens, has received clearance to proceed with his candidacy. However, he is required to use his deadname, as he has not yet legally changed it.

Bobbie Arnold, a Democrat contractor from West Alexandria who is running for the Ohio House, had her potential disqualification dismissed by the Montgomery County Board of Elections on Tuesday. As a result, she will be able to participate in the March 19 primary election.

During the county board meeting on Tuesday, Jeff Rezabek, the board’s director, presented the details of Arnold’s situation. He advised the board members not to take any action regarding her disqualification. Rezabek pointed out that the rule in question was not listed in the candidate guide and emphasized that there was no evidence of Arnold intentionally deceiving voters about her identity. The board members agreed with Rezabek’s recommendation.

Under state law, Arnold could potentially be removed from office for failing to disclose her deadname if she were to win her election. While she is consulting her lawyer to navigate this aspect of the law, she remains hopeful that changes being pursued by Joy’s team and DeWine’s call for candidates to stay on the ballot will prevent any complications in November.

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