Farsi-Language Voter Materials Draw Fire In Beverly Hills

Robert Jablon, AP, Feb. 23, 2007

The city’s decision to publish its first completely bilingual election manual featuring Persian side-by-side with English has generated hundreds of complaints.

The pamphlets for the March 6 city election were mailed out early this month to 21,000 voters. They were printed cover-to-cover in both English and Persian, also known as Farsi. The absentee ballot card itself also had a third language, Spanish

The city of 35,000 has a large and growing Persian population that began with wealthy emigres who fled the Iranian revolution in the late 1970s.

City Clerk Byron Pope said his office received about 300 complaints within a week of sending out the new ballots, and a small number of complaints continue to trickle in by phone, e-mail and letter.

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Rose Norton, an absentee ballot voter, said it was the cluttered design of the ballot that offended her.

“It looked like a menu from a Farsi restaurant to me,” she said. “The ballot gets so busy and so confusing when you have all of these languages on it.”

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Pope said it was his decision to change the ballot as just another service.

“We don’t want to disenfranchise any segment of the community,” Pope said.

Nobody expected a backlash, he said.

Pope said he believed some residents were shocked by seeing a Middle Eastern script on the cover of the ballot, especially at a time when the Iraq war has raised the profile of that tense region.

The city previously had separate ballots available in English, Persian and Spanish. In 2005, the candidate statements and voter instructions in the sample ballot were printed in both English and Persian on separate pages, while the cover was English-only.

Fewer than 50 people requested Persian ballots that year.

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