STARK COUNTY, Ohio — Four transgender candidates are seeking election in Ohio. One is being kept off the ballot for not following a little-known election law.

What You Need To Know

  • Four transgender candidates are seeking election in Ohio

  • Vanessa Joy is the only trans candidate running for office in Ohio who will not be allowed on the ballot because of a little-known election law

  • She believes she is the victim of discrimination

Three have had their petitions reviewed by county boards of election because they didn’t follow a little-known Ohio law that requires them to include their former legal name if it’s been changed in the last five years.

The boards of election in Montgomery and Mercer counties gave two of those candidates the green light. But the Stark County Board of Elections said the trans woman running in that county cannot appear on the ballot this election cycle. 

“I am now the sole candidate disqualified because of this law,” said Vanessa Joy. Joy is a transgender woman who wanted to run for the Ohio House of Representatives District 50. “I actually feel that there might be some discrimination at play,” explained Joy. 

Joy is being kept off the ballot because of a little-known Ohio election law stating candidates must disclose name changes made in the last five years on their petition for office. This does not apply to name changes after marriage. There is no space on the petition to list former names and the law isn’t listed in the 33-page candidate requirement guide on the secretary of state’s website.

“Had I known this law existed, I personally would have put my deadname on it too. Some trans people wouldn’t if they were running,” Joy said.

A deadname is a transgendered person’s former name, usually assigned at birth, once they’ve chosen a new name that more closely aligns with their gender identity.

Tom Sutton is a professor of political science at Baldwin Wallace University and said he’s never seen this law enforced in the 30 years he’s been studying political science.

“This is the first time I’ve seen this law used in any way shape or form but again, I think this is an indication of where the law isn’t keeping up with civil change, and that’s certainly not surprising,” said Sutton. 

He said the lack of a line on the petition form to list old legal names and the omission of this law in the candidates’ guide sends a murky message.

“Basically, indicates that while the law is on the books, it really wasn’t set up to be enforced,” said Sutton. 

Sutton said with today’s technology, there are other ways of verifying identity.

“Maybe in these days when we have so many ways in which identity can be verified, the need to put former names on a ballot is no longer even necessary,” said Sutton.

The Stark County Board of Elections declined to go on camera for this story but sent out a press release explaining their decision to keep Joy off the ballot.

The statement reads in part, “The Stark County Board of Elections is sympathetic to Vanessa Joy’s argument that the campaign election guide put out by the Ohio Secretary of State was not specific enough. However, our decision must be based on the law and cannot be arbitrarily applied.”

The secretary of state’s office also declined to go on camera but sent a statement, saying in part, “The law applies to everyone. The Stark County Board of Elections should not be criticized for their unanimous and bipartisan decision to follow Ohio law. The 2024 Candidate Requirement Guide does not include every statute pertaining to candidates, in fact, the first paragraph offers that disclaimer and urges candidates to consult with their legal counsel.”

“These petitions need to have a space for former name and the candidate guide needs to include that,” said Joy. 

In that same statement, the secretary of state’s office said there are plans to change their guidelines.

“Since this issue has come about, we will take a look at the candidate guide and add this in the future,” the statement said.

There is no formal appeals process at the state level. Any appeals would need to go through the courts.

Joy has petitioned the Stark County Board of Elections for a third time to allow her on the ballot. If she is unsuccessful, she plans to sue.

“If I don’t get this, my next step is to hire legal representation to challenge all of this because this law has now been upheld unequally. Two candidates were allowed to stay on. I was not,” said Joy.