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Trans candidates face legal ambiguity in Ohio elections

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Ohio’s county boards of elections have made incongruous decisions in determining which transgender statehouse candidates would be included on the ballot, resulting in an uneven application of the law.

A little-publicized state law requires candidates to reveal any name alterations within the last five years on their petitions, excluding changes due to marriage. Although the regulation was designed to identify bad actors, it remains unfamiliar to many election officials.

The law is not outlined in the 33-page candidate requirement guide, and there is no designated space on the petitions for documenting previous names. Therefore, three out of four transgender candidates unintentionally violated the ambiguous rule by using their legal names instead of their deadnames on their ballot petitions.

Arienne Childrey, running in the Democratic primary for House District 84 in Western Ohio, expressed concern despite having been cleared to run in the election by the Mercer County Board of Elections.

“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.

She highlighted the ambiguity and need for more publicity surrounding Ohio’s laws, emphasizing the challenge of understanding and complying with them. Despite the absence of a designated space on the petition and its exclusion from the secretary of state’s 2024 candidate guide, the board of elections decided she could remain on the ballot.

The board made the decision based on the obscure nature of the provision, its absence from recent candidate guides and the board’s belief that Childrey did not intend to mislead anyone.

A similar outcome occurred for Bobbie Arnold. The Montgomery County Board of Elections also concluded that Arnold had not attempted to deceive anyone during the hearing.

“In the nearly nine years since I started my transition, I have made it a point to be transparent about who I am, as I firmly believe that to be the only way to understand each other,” Arnold said.

Injustice against trans candidates

The same was not the case for Vanessa Joy, a House candidate from Stark County. Despite having enough signatures to secure a spot on the ballot, Joy has been disqualified from an Ohio House race for not adding her deadname.

“If I had known that I had to put my deadname on my petitions, I personally would have because being elected was important to me. But for many, it would be a barrier to entry because they would not want their names on the petitions,” Joy said.

The Stark County Board of Elections wrote in a statement that it’s “sympathetic” to her argument, considering the Ohio Secretary of State campaign guide did not specify the requirements. However, it also emphasized that the decision “must be based on the law and cannot be arbitrarily applied.”

Expressing frustration with the county board’s decision, Joy said her campaign has ended for now. Despite the setback, she mentioned collaborating with an attorney to advocate for changes to the law. She aims for better inclusivity for transgender candidates who choose not to disclose their previous names.

“I’m out of the race, but I’m not out of the fight,” Joy said on Monday.

On January 16, Governor Mike DeWine expressed the need to amend the law, suggesting that county boards cease disqualifying transgender candidates based on these criteria. However, he did not specify how exactly it needs to be changed.

More from So.Gay:

In a blow to trans rights, Ohio House overrides veto for trans healthcare, sports participation

California Attorney General deems forced outing ‘unconstitutional’

Proposed Florida bill gives $35K fine for speaking against transphobia

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