Ohio transgender candidates face paperwork challenges for ballot

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 23, 2024

COLUMBUS (AP) — A transgender candidate vying for a seat in the Republican-majority Ohio House was cleared to run Thursday after her certification had been called into question for omitting her former name on qualifying petitions as required by a little-used state elections law.

The Mercer County Board of Elections chose not take up a vote on disqualifying Arienne Childrey, a Democrat from Auglaize County who is one of four transgender individuals campaigning for the Legislature, for not disclosing her previous name on petition paperwork.

Childrey, who legally changed her name in 2020, has said she would have provided her deadname — the name a transgender person was assigned at birth but does not align with their gender identity — if she had known about the law.

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“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.

The Ohio law, unfamiliar even to many state elections officials, mandates that candidates disclose any name changes in the past five years on their petition paperwork, with exemptions for changes caused by marriage. But the law isn’t listed in the 33-page candidate requirement guide and there is no space on the petition paperwork to list any former names.

All four transgender candidates for the Legislature this year have run into issues with the name-change law, which has been in place in some form for decades but is rarely used — typically in the context of candidates wishing to use a nickname.

The complications in Ohio come at a time when Republican-controlled state governments nationwide have moved to limit transgender rights. Last year, legislatures passed dozens of bills restricting medical care for transgender youth, governing pronoun and bathroom usage at schools and dictating which sports teams transgender athletes can join.

Earlier this month, Ohio’s Mercer County Board of Elections received a protest to Childrey’s ballot certification from county Republican Party Chairman Robert J. Hibner. Because the ballot is for the upcoming March 19 primary, the board ruled Hibner’s protest invalid, as Hibner is from the opposing political party.

The board did not immediately respond to questions regarding the elections law itself and what role it played in Thursday’s decision to keep Childrey on the ballot.

If Childrey were to win the Democratic primary, she would likely face Rep. Angie King, a Republican lawmaker who has sponsored anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and voted for bans on gender-affirming care for minors in November’s general election.

Childrey told The Associated Press Thursday that it’s “nice to take a deep breath” as she and her team now plunge into campaigning.

“Hopefully people will see that this is a marginalized community in Ohio, and yet we’re still standing,” she said.

Last week, Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose said his office is open to putting the rule on the candidate guide but not to tweaking the law and it’s up to candidates to ensure they comply with Ohio election law.

But Republican Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday that the law should be amended and county boards should stop disqualifying transgender candidates on these grounds. DeWine did not say how it might be amended.

“We shouldn’t be denying ballot access for that reason,” the governor told Cleveland.com’s editorial board. “It certainly should be fixed.”

DeWine recently vetoed a proposed ban on gender-affirming care for minors, but the state House overrode that veto. The Senate is expected to do the same next week.

Vanessa Joy, a real estate photographer from Stark County running for the Ohio House who legally changed her name in 2022, was disqualified earlier this month for omitting her deadname from petition paperwork. She appealed her disqualification but was denied. Joy, who said the current law is a barrier to transgender individuals who want to seek office but do not want to disclose their deadname, is now working with legal counsel and the Ohio Democratic Party to try to change the law.

Ari Faber, a Democratic candidate for the Ohio state Senate from Athens, was cleared to run but must use his deadname since he has not legally changed it.

Bobbie Arnold, a contractor from West Alexandria running as a Democrat for the Ohio House, had her possible disqualification dismissed Tuesday by the Montgomery County Board of Elections and will be on the ballot in the March primary.

However, under the state law, if Arnold or Childrey were to win their elections, they could still be removed from office for not disclosing their deadname and both are consulting with legal counsel about that part of the law.

Arnold hopes that between Joy’s work with her own team to change the law and DeWine’s call for candidates to stay on the ballot, that won’t be an issue come November.

For now, like Childrey, she’s excited to start campaigning.

“It’s important for the overall well-being of our society that every voice has an opportunity to be heard,” said Arnold, who went to Childrey’s hearing to support her. “And that’s something that we’re not experiencing right now in Ohio.”

In light of the outcomes of Childrey and Arnold’s cases, Joy appealed again Thursday to the Stark County Board of Elections.