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Ohio board stands by disqualification of transgender candidate, despite others being allowed to run

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A county board in Ohio has refused to reconsider the disqualification of a transgender state House candidate who omitted her former name from circulating petitions, even as other transgender candidates have been cleared for the ballot.

The Stark County Board of Elections said in a statement Friday that it stands by its decision to disqualify Vanessa Joy, a real estate photographer from Massillon, Ohio, because she did not put a name that no longer aligns with her gender identity — also referred to as a deadname — on the petitions used to gather signatures to get on the ballot. State law mandates that candidates disclose any name changes from the past five years on their petitions, with exemptions for changes resulting from marriage.

The law, meant to weed out bad actors, is unknown even to many elections officials, and it isn’t listed in the 33-page candidate requirement guide. Additionally, there is no space on the petitions to list former names.

Joy said she's frustrated by the county board's decision and that, for now, her campaign is over. However, she said she is working with an attorney to try to change the law to be more inclusive of transgender candidates who don't want to disclose their previous names for personal safety reasons, among others.

"I’m out of the race, but I’m not out of the fight," Joy told The Associated Press on Monday.

The county board said in its statement that it was “sympathetic to” Joy’s argument that she shouldn't be disqualified since the campaign guide did not contain the requirement, but said its decision “must be based on the law."

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 used rarely, usually by candidates wishing to use a nickname.

Fellow Democratic transgender House candidates Bobbie Arnold of Preble County and Arienne Childrey of Auglaize County were cleared to run by their respective boards of elections just last week. But if Joy does not succeed in changing the law before November and Childrey or Arnold win, they could technically still be kicked out of office.

Ari Faber, a Democrat from Athens running for the Ohio state Senate, has not legally changed his name and so has not had his candidacy challenged. Faber is running with his deadname on the ballot.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine previously said that the law should be amended and transgender candidates shouldn't be disqualified on these grounds.

Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose said his team will work to put the law on the candidate guide. But he said his office is not open to tweaking the law because public officeholders must be transparent with voters and are not entitled to such privacy.

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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.