NJ Voter Registration Fiasco

Zary Mojtabai and her sister were both denied their vote in their preferred New Jersey Primary earlier this year. When they showed up at the polling station they were informed that they were tagged as Republicans, even though they had not officially affiliated themselves with either political party. Consequently, they were ineligible to vote in the Democratic Primary. The inability to exercise their right was further soured by the fact that their votes as Democrats were significant in their mostly Republican district; Mojtabai commented that “We were really looking forward to participate in this first major New Jersey primary election and it has been very frustrating to encounter such an ambiguous obstacle.”

Mojtabai immediately contacted NIAC in order to find out whether we had heard of other Iranian-Americans experiencing similar difficulties. We have been alerted about registration problems in the past but the voters who contacted us did not provide much detail and were less willing to undertake the necessary follow-up procedures. Mojtabai, however, was willing and she is a perfect example of how one should react to this kind of adversity. In addition to contacting NIAC, she was in touch with the appropriate election staff as well as the Star Ledger, New Jersey’s main paper, in order to make sure her experience did not go unnoticed. Although the problem that Mojtabai and her family experienced was attributed to a software upgrade error (as opposed to racial profiling or the like), the fact that anyone – Iranian-American or not – was unable to cast their ballot is extremely worrying.

This is something that should not be brushed aside but should be taken seriously, especially in the Iranian-American community. After past encounters with politics, such as the aftermath of the 1979 Revolution, it is not surprising that many Iranian Americans shy away and are often apathetic to political goings-on. Even still, it is important to get involved. Injustices like Mojtabai incurred will only continue to happen unless the people who are disadvantaged speak out.

Also, nobody in America should take for granted that the political system always runs smoothly. This story perfectly demonstrates that even in a modern democracy, mistakes do arise out of human or machine error; we do not live in the perfect system.

Although Mojtabai’s problems have now been put to rest, she never found out how many people were similarly afflicted and why the software update affected her and her family but not others. However, she was told that it is possible that complications were due to problems with local voting practices; affiliations could be based on “default assumption” since the town tends to be mainly Republicans. Nevertheless, this is perturbing, especially because in an article in The Star-Ledger the Elections Superintendent admitted that when the voter histories for this case were checked there was no evidence that these people had voted in primaries before.

We must not accept that these errors occur and leave it at that. By taking action we can put right the situation. Mojtabai is a powerful example of such determination. She is resolute that this should never happen again and has promised that “From now on, every two years our Clerk’s Office will hear from us regarding the status of our affiliation!”

Posted By Julia Murray

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Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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