What's Sauce for the Anatoly is Sauce for the Meherunnisa

An interesting election law (and name law) case from New York.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

In Jobaida v. Bd. of Elections, decided Monday by New York trial judge Leonard Livote, a woman whose official name (under which she was registered to vote) is Meherunnisa Jobaida sought to run in the Democratic Party primary for an Assembly seat under the name "Mary Jobaida" (apparently the name she had commonly used).  She submitted the required nominating petition with voter signatures, but New York election officials rejected her petition because of the name difference:

A candidate seeking to be designated (or nominated) on a ballot is required to list her name on the petition pursuant to New York Election Law 6-134(1). The general rule is that one must petition under the name under which she is registered to vote.

"[T]he word 'name' as used in the Election Law should be afforded its plain, ordinary and usual sense." (Lewis v New York State Board of Elections, 254 AD2d 568 [3rd Dept 1998].) Descriptive terms and nicknames are not permitted in the place of the candidate's name on a petition. (Id.; ["Grandpa" Al Lewis's name was struck from the ballot because the petition included a nickname which was impermissible].) While the use of descriptive terms and nicknames is impermissible, a candidate may use a familiar or diminutive form of her name. (See Gumbs v Board of Elections, 143 AD2d 235 [2nd Dept 1988] [candidate used the name "Marty" in place of "Martin"]; Matter of Abinanti v Duffy, 120 AD3d 669 [2d Dept 2014] (candidate used the name "Mike" in place of "Michael")….

The Board determined that Mary is not a familiar or diminutive version of "Meherunnisa." Accordingly, the Board determined that the Designation Petition was invalid and petitioner failed to qualify as a candidate ….

As a general rule, a petition should not be invalidated where "there is no proof of any intention on the part of the candidate or of those who have solicited on his (or her) behalf to mislead or confuse, and no evidence that the inaccuracy did or would lead or tend to lead to misidentification or confusion on the part of those invited to sign the petition." For example, in Eisenberg v Strasser (100 NY2d 590 [2003]), the court affirmed the Second Department's decision and agreed with the dissent stating "under these circumstances, there is no reason to disqualify the candidate for using the name 'Tony Eisenberg' rather than 'Anatoly Eyzenberg,' on his designating petition." The petition in Eisenberg was, however, invalidated for other reasons.

Here, petitioner has sufficiently established that she held herself out both professionally and personally as "Mary" and that no intent existed to mislead signatories. Clearly, the differences in petitioner's name in the Eisenberg case were far greater. 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. Thus, the position taken by the Board is impermissibly narrow. Accordingly, the petition is granted and … [Jobaida's] Designating Petition … is declared valid, proper, sufficient and legally effective ….

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  1. I know in Louisiana several prominent politicians in the past have chad their names to incorporating former nicknames. Moon Landrieu was one.

  2. A Meherunissa by another name is still a Meherunissa.

  3. In this particular case, Jobaida is such an unusual last name in this country; I think there is a zero chance that any voter would be confused or misled.

    (One of my idle musings was why, as a political matter, political parties do not routinely find a stooge, have him/her change their names, and have them run as a fringe candidate–a few years later–in the upcoming presidential election. So, the Dems could have had some person with the last name Trump change his name to Donald [or even Donald J.], have him live his life as Donald Trump for a few years, and then have him run as the candidate for [fill in the name of one of the fringe parties]. Or as an independent candidate. Almost no one would be fooled by this, come election day. But *some* would, and that could make all the difference in a super-tight state–especially if the name ordering on a ballot was truly random.
    [Same exact point if Hillary Clinton had been elected in ’16. Find a ringer, change that person’s name, and run her as a stooge for Hillary’s reelection in 2020.]
    With countless judges available across the country, it would be an easy matter to find a judge to approve this name change. This is more of a thought-experiment. But I am surprised that it has never been attempted…unless I’ve missed something on my Google searches.)

    1. When George W. Bush came on the scene, it was theorized that some of his early polling lead was voters who confused him for his father.

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