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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!”

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