Another Trans Candidate in Ohio Faces Disqualification Vote for Omitting Deadname
Samantha Hendrickson READ TIME: 3 MIN.
A second transgender candidate running for a seat in the Republican-majority Ohio House is at risk of being disqualified from the ballot after omitting her former name on circulating petitions.
The Mercer County Board of Elections is set to vote Thursday on whether Arienne Childrey, a Democrat from Auglaize County and one of four transgender individuals campaigning for the Legislature, is eligible to run after not disclosing her previous name, also known as her deadname, on her petition paperwork.
A little-used Ohio elections law, unfamiliar even to many state elections officials, mandates that candidates disclose any name changes in the last five years on their petitions paperwork, with exemptions for name changes due to 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.
Childrey, who legally changed her name in 2020, said she would have provided her deadname if she had known about the law.
"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.
If she isn't disqualified, Childrey will be running against Rep. Angie King, a Republican lawmaker who has sponsored anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and voted for bans on gender-affirming care for minors as well as barring transgender athletes from female sports.
The law has been in place in some form for decades, though it's rarely been used and usually arises in the context of candidates wishing to use a nickname.
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'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 that the 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 Jan. 24.
In various ways, all four transgender candidates have been affected by the law's name-change notification requirement.
Vanessa Joy, a real estate photographer from Stark County running for the Ohio House, who legally changed her name in 2022, was the first to be disqualified for omitting her deadname from petition paperwork. She appealed her disqualification but was denied. Joy is now working with legal counsel and the Ohio Democratic Party to try to change the law.
Joy says the current law is a barrier to transgender individuals who want to seek office but do not want to disclose their deadname – the name a transgender person was assigned at birth but does not align with their gender identity.
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 19 primary.
When presenting the facts of Arnold's situation to the county board Tuesday, the board's director, Jeff Rezabek, recommended the members take no action on the disqualification. He noted that the candidate guide did not list the rule and that there is no evidence Arnold was intentionally deceitful toward voters about her identity. The members went along with Rezabek's recommendation.
However, under the state law, if Arnold were to win her election, she could still be removed from office for not disclosing her deadname. Arnold is consulting her lawyer about that part of the law but 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, 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," Arnold said. "And that's something that we're not experiencing right now in Ohio."
Samantha Hendrickson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.