A Candidate’s “True” Name

The Ohio law made sense when enacted and it still makes sense. The problem isn’t with the law, but with the cultural shift that entitled some people, a tiny cohort, to use the name of choice and condemns their real name as “deadnaming.” There was no such thing as “deadnaming” back then.

The law, which was passed in 1995 to prevent deception, requires candidates who have changed names in the last five years to list previous names on election petitions. It has become an obstacle for Mr. Faber, who has not legally changed his name, and the three other transgender people seeking a seat in Ohio’s Legislature this year.

Think of a candidate who runs under a pseudonym so you don’t realize she’s bankrupt, wanted for murder or convicted of defrauding banks. Should that be allowed to happen? Should the voters be deceived by simply adopting a new name to place on a ballot? Few would argue that this is acceptable, and so it should be neither surprising nor controversial that there is a law requiring candidates to use their “real” name and include any prior “real” name so they can’t conceal their true identity.

But as much as this may seem entirely appropriate in general, it’s not working for transgender candidates, for whom their original name reflecting their sex is the slur of “deadnaming.”

Ari Faber has lived as a man for nine years. But because of a state law, Mr. Faber, a Democratic candidate for the Ohio Senate, will appear on ballots in a March primary election with a woman’s name.

[Ari] Faber, 29, said that the Belmont County Board of Elections said that he must run as Iva Faber, the name he was given at birth but stopped using when he came out as transgender as an Ohio University student in 2016.

“I am a little bit concerned that supporters might be confused when they see my deadname on the ballot,” Mr. Faber said. “It’s frustrating, because it feels like Iva is a completely different person than I am now.”

One problem with the name to be listed on the ballot is that Faber never had his name legally changed to “Ari,”  While doing so involves some paperwork, some money and some commitment to the new name, it was within his power to exercise greater control over his “real” name and he simply failed to do so. That’s on him.

But what about people who use nicknames or middle names when they run for office. What if someone is popularly known as “Nikki” when her real first name is “Nimrata,” or even “J.D.” when his real name is “James David”? Granted, they’re not trying to trick anyone, but then neither is Ari Faber, whose taken a name to reflect the gender he presents. Does intent to deceive matter?

It’s hard to imagine that anyone who chooses to vote Democratic or for Faber will be confused by the listing as “Iva” rather than “Ari.” Indeed, this could present a huge campaign hook for Faber that could well work to his advantage assuming that people in Ohio otherwise want to vote for him. Of course, if they don’t support Faber, then it won’t matter either way. But will anybody voting for “Faber” be confused? It’s hard to imagine.

What’s more concerning are the candidates who were rejected in other counties by other election boards for failing to provide their true names.

Mr. Faber said that he learned of the rule in January after it was cited in another transgender candidate’s disqualification from a House race elsewhere in the state.

That candidate, Vanessa Joy, a real estate photographer in Stark County, Ohio, was disqualified from running as a Democrat for a seat in the state’s House of Representatives after submitting petitions without her previous name on them.

Ms. Joy appealed the disqualification to the Stark County Board of Elections, and lost. She said she was still working to have the law amended out of concern that if any of the transgender candidates prevailed in the November elections, they could be prevented from taking a seat because of the law. It states that a person elected under a changed name who has not disclosed a former name will be suspended from office.

The complaint is that this rule wasn’t included in the “candidate guide” and there was no line in the form for prior names.

Ohio’s names rule does not appear in Ohio’s 33-page candidate guide. All four candidates said they had not been aware of it when they submitted their petitions for certification, and they noted that there was no space on the petitions to list additional names.

On the one hand, is it too much to expect a candidate for office to do their homework on the requisite laws rather than rely on a guide for completeness? On the other hand, if you’re going to publish a guide, it is to much to expect it to be reliable? And when the guide, and the forms, fall short of the law, is it too much to expect that election boards will allow modification rather than disqualification when there is no improper intent? Mistakes happen, and here it would appear everyone has egg on their face.

It’s hardly surprising that a 1995 law enacted with the best of intentions to prevent deception by candidates for office neglected to incorporate provisions to accommodate transgender candidates nearly 30 years later. At the same time, they are here, they are running for office as they are entitled to do and it really isn’t hard to distinguish someone using a name intended to deceive voters rather than a name that matches their gender.

While grievance over the slur of “deadnaming” may have no place in law, the accuracy of the guide, forms and law to accommodate a transgender candidate’s adopted name hardly seems like much of a stretch. Democracy demands that voters be entitled to cast their vote for the otherwise qualified candidate of their choice, whether they go by Iva or Ari.

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