Court reinstates Muslim candidates kicked out of New York elections

22nd May 2020
Court reinstates Muslim candidates kicked out of New York elections

Photo courtesy of Mary Jobaida

Elham Asaad Buaras

Two Muslim Bangladeshi-American women running for the Queens Primary in the New York State Assembly elections are back in the ballot after they were removed by the city’s Board of Elections (BOE) on April 23 over “technical name errors.”

On May 4, Queens Supreme Court Judge Leonard Livote ruled against the BOE’s decision and ordered Mary Jobaida, who hopes to unseat Cathy Nolan in Assembly District 37, and Moumita Ahmed, who is vying to be the Democratic district leader in Assembly District 24, to appear on their respective ballots.

In a move that was branded anti-Muslim and xenophobic by the pair and their supporters the BOE had knocked the candidates off the ballot over discrepancies in their names.

The Board ruled that the name each had filed to run on didn’t match the name they are registered to vote with. For instance, Jobaida is registered to vote under her legal name “Meherunnisa,” but filed her petition to appear on the ballot with her nickname “Mary.”

Likewise, Ahmed has campaigned for the Democratic district leader position under her personal name “Moumita,” but had registered to vote under her legal name “Atqiya.”

Speaking to The Muslim News Jobaida said getting “kicked off the ballot over a frivolous excuse was exactly the opposite of what I wanted to see in the most diverse borough in the whole nation. Western Queens, where I am running, is the most progressive. I am a first time candidate from an ethnic background of which no other candidate for this position has ran from before. People of all walks enthusiastically volunteered and donated to pave a movement.”

“Young people from all backgrounds came together even in the freezing cold, collecting hundreds of signatures to get my name on the ballot. Facing this roadblock from the BOE was an absolute shock for us all. I am very grateful for the Judge’s decision. This is another progressive step for our democracy and inclusion. This decision upholds our Queens value,” added Jobaida.

Judge Livote called the BOE’s ruling “impermissibly narrow.” He noted previous cases where a candidate named “Michael” was allowed to run under “Mike” and another candidate named “Martin” was allowed to run under “Marty.”

The argument of racial discrepancy in the application of the rules was also noted by many of their supporters including Councillor Costa Constantinides, a candidate for Queens Borough President.

“Two Muslim women were kicked off the ballot for shortening their names on their petitions. However, this is a common practice used by many elected officials, including Bill Clinton (William) and Marty Markowitz (Martin). At face value, the decision against Mary Jobaida and Moumita Ahmed was a xenophobic attempt to keep two women of colour from entering the political discourse,” said Constantinides.

The South Asian American Voters Association branded the decision to kick the pair out as a “xenophobic attempt” to keep the pair off the ballot.

Judge Livote said the diversity of Queens calls for a wider view of the name requirements and what constitutes a nickname. ‘In a county as diverse as Queens, with many exotic and unfamiliar names, an expansive view must be taken of what is familiar or diminutive,’ he wrote. ‘Thus, the position taken by the Board is impermissibly narrow.’

Both women will appear on the ballot on June 23 under their personal names.

 

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