Transgender candidates running for state office in Ohio are at risk of being disqualified from the ballot for neglecting to disclose their given name on election paperwork.
Several Democrats seeking election to the GOP-controlled state House this year — motivated by bills they argue target and discriminate against transgender people — say their campaigns face a hurdle thanks to an obscure state law that requires them to list their “deadnames,” the names they had before their transition.
The 1995 Ohio election law requires that candidates disclose any name changes in the last five years on their petition paperwork, with exemptions for name changes due to marriage. Democrats have complained that the law is not listed in the 33-page candidate requirement guide and allege state officials have “weaponized” it against transgender candidates.
“I do not believe transgender candidates should be required to put deadnames on candidacy documents. While I don’t believe this law was written with bigotry in mind, I do believe it is clearly being weaponized for transphobic purpose,” said Arienne Childrey, a Democrat from Auglaize County who is running for state House, in a statement to Fox News Digital.
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Arienne Childrey speaks into a megaphone outside of Mercer County Courthouse in Celina, Ohio, during a protest against the Ohio Drag Ban. (Sam Shim/Arienne Childrey via AP)
Childrey, who identifies as female, is challenging Rep. Angie King, a Republican lawmaker who sponsored bills that would segregate school bathrooms by sex, requiring transgender students to use facilities corresponding to their birth sex. King also voted for bans on sex-reassignment medical procedures for minors and to bar transgender athletes from female sports teams.
The Mercer County Board of Elections will vote Thursday on whether Childrey is eligible to run after not disclosing a legal name change on petition paperwork. Childrey is one of four transgender candidates running for the legislature and the second to face ballot access issues based on the 1995 law.
The candidates say they would have followed the name-change notification requirement had they known about it.
“I do not disagree with the spirit of this law. The law was designed to keep bad players from changing their names and running for office on the grounds of fooling voters,” said Vanessa Joy, a real estate photographer from Stark County running for the Ohio House. Joy was disqualified from the ballot earlier this month for violating the name requirement.
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Transgender candidates, from left to right, Bobbie Brooke Arnold, Vanessa Joy and Ari Faber are among those impacted by a 1995 Ohio state law that requires them to list their “deadnames,” the names they had before they transitioned, on petition paperwork to run for office. (Gage Gatlyn/Bobbie Brooke Arnold/Vanessa Joy/Ari Faber via AP)
“I want to make this abundantly clear: HAD I KNOWN ABOUT THIS LAW, I WOULD HAVE INCLUDED MY DEADNAME ON MY PETITIONS,” Joy wrote in a Facebook Post. “Would I have liked people to know that name? No. But, serving the people of District 50 is far more important to me than the people signing the petitions and the Board of Elections knowing my deadname.”
Childrey said the same in an interview with The Associated Press.
“I would have filled out whatever was necessary, because at the end of the day, while it would have been a hit to my pride, there is something much more important than my pride, and that’s fighting for this community,” Childrey said.
Last week, Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose said while his office is open to putting the rule on the candidate guide, they are not open to tweaking the law and that it is up to candidates to ensure they comply with Ohio election law.
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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has called for the name-change notification law to be amended so transgender candidates are not disqualified from the ballot for refusing to provide their previous names. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
However, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday that the law should be changed and that county boards should not disqualify transgender candidates on that basis.
“We shouldn’t be denying ballot access for that reason,” the governor told Cleveland.com’s editorial board. “It certainly should be fixed.”
DeWine is under fire from Ohio conservatives for vetoing a proposed ban on sex-reassignment medical procedures for minors, but the state House overrode his veto. The Senate is expected to follow suit on Jan. 24.
“I would disagree with Governor Dewine on much, but on this I’m in agreement,” Childrey said when asked about DeWine’s position on the name-change notification requirement. “Transgender candidates should not be disqualified due to an obscure, seldom enforced law.”
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Other transgender candidates impacted by the name-change notification law include Ari Faber, a Democratic candidate running for the Ohio state Senate from Athens, and Bobbie Arnold, a contractor from West Alexandria running as a Democrat for the Ohio House.
Both candidates were ultimately cleared to run and will have their names on the ballot for the March 19 primary.
Joy, who was disqualified, intends to file a lawsuit challenging the law with the support of the Ohio House Democratic Caucus and the Ohio Democratic Party Pride Caucus.
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“The Transgender community in the United States of America is currently in the midst of a state-sponsored genocide, brought on by the Republican Party. In 2023, a record 587 bills levied against the rights of transgender people were introduced across the country. Already in 2024, we are nearing 180 bills introduced … and we are only 10 days into the year,” Joy wrote on Facebook.
“Ohio is no exception, and in fact is becoming one of the most dangerous places in the country for transgender people to live.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.