COLUMBUS, Ohio — A transgender candidate running for a seat in the Republican-dominated Ohio House was allowed to run Thursday after her certification was called into question due to the omission of her former name on election filings, as required by a little-used state election law.
The Mercer County Board of Elections chose not to vote to disqualify Democrat Arienne Childrey of Auglaize County, one of four transgender people campaigning for the Legislature, for failing to disclose her previous name on her application papers.
Childrey, who legally changed her name in 2020, said if she had known about the law, she would have given her deceased name — the name a transgender person is given at birth but doesn’t match their gender identity.
“I would fill in because at the end of the day, even though it hurts my pride, there’s something more important than my pride and that’s fighting for this community,” Childrey said.
Ohio law, which is unfamiliar even to many state election officials, requires candidates to disclose on their application documents any name changes within the past five years, except for changes caused by marriage. But the law is not specified in the 33-page candidate requirements guide, and there is no place to list past names on application documents.
All four transgender candidates For the Legislature, problems have arisen this year with the name-change law, which has been in place in some form for decades but is rarely used — usually in the context of candidates who want to use a nickname.
Earlier this month, the board challenged Childrey’s ballot certification from Mercer County Republican Party Chairman Robert J. Hibner. Since the vote was for the March 19 primary, the board invalidated Hibner’s protest because Hibner is from an opposing political party.
The Mercer County Board of Elections did not immediately respond to questions about the election 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 Republican Rep. Angie King, who sponsored and voted for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. prohibitions on gender-affirming care of minors in the November general elections.
Across the country, Republican-controlled state governments have moved to limit transgender rights. In the past year, legislatures have passed dozens of bills that limit medical care for transgender youth, regulate the use of pronouns and bathrooms in schools, and dictate which sports teams transgender athletes can join.
Childrey told The Associated Press on Thursday that “it’s nice to take a deep breath” as he and his team now enter the campaign.
“I hope people will see that this is an isolated community in Ohio and we’re still standing,” he said.
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose said last week that his office is open to rules on the candidate guide, but not to changing the law, and that it’s up to candidates to ensure they follow Ohio election law.
But Republican Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday that the law should be amended and state boards should stop disqualifying transgender candidates on those grounds. DeWine did not say how it might be changed.
“We shouldn’t deny access to the ballots for that reason,” the governor told Cleveland.com’s editorial staff. “Of course it needs to be fixed.”
The 2022 Ohio House candidate who legally changed her name was Vanessa Joy, a real estate photographer from Stark County. was disqualified earlier this month for omitting his dead name from the application documents. He appealed the disqualification but was denied. Joy, who says the current law is a barrier to transgender people who want to seek office but don’t want to reveal their dead names, is now working with her legal counsel and the Ohio Democratic Party to change the law.
Ari Faber, a Democratic candidate for the Ohio State Senate from Athens, has been approved to run, but must use his deceased name because he has not legally changed it.
Bobbie Arnold, a West Alexandria contractor running as a Democrat for the Ohio House, had his possible disqualification dismissed by the Montgomery County Board of Elections Tuesday and will be on the ballot in the March primary.
However, under state law, if Arnold or Childrey were to win the election, they could still be removed from office for not disclosing their names, and both are consulting with legal counsel about that part of the law.
Between Joy working with his team to change the law and DeWine calling for candidates to remain on the ballot, Arnold hopes that won’t be an issue in November.
For now, like Childrey, he’s excited to start his campaign.
“It’s important to the overall well-being of our community that every voice has the opportunity to be heard,” said Arnold, who went to Childrey’s hearing to support her. “And that’s something we don’t have in Ohio right now.”
Given the results of the Childrey and Arnold cases, Joy filed again with the Stark County Board of Elections on Thursday.