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Voting is not frivolous. Neither is Belén Colôn’s lawsuit

Belén Colôn defends her right to vote

Belén Colôn of Rochester, New York went to the Baden Street Settlement polling site, her polling site, on June 23rd to vote. Previously, she had registered to vote with the assistance of her daughter Mercedes Vázquez Simmons. She had researched the candidates. Ms. Colôn intended to vote for Hilda Rosario Esher for state Senate in the 56th District.

But according to a lawsuit filed by Ms. Colôn against the Monroe County Board of Elections and as reported this morning by Natalia Rodriguez Medina for Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Ms. Colôn was given the wrong ballot at the Baden Street Settlement by a polling site worker. The polling site was host to the voters of two separate state Senate races.

A simple mistake by a poll worker at the Baden Street Settlement on June 23rd that could be easily corrected.

But the mistake was not corrected, despite Ms. Colôn doing everything right after discovering Esher was not on the ballot she had received. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle quotes Ms. Simmons: “My mother told the poll worker, ‘I want the ballot with Hilda on it,’ and was told that Hilda is not in this district.” Ms. Colôn then called the Monroe County Board of Elections office and after a wait was told she would receive a call back. The call never came.

Mercedes Vazquez Simmons, daughter of Belén Colôn, pictured in an 2018 advertisement for Monroe Community College.

Still at the polling site and with the wrong ballot still in her hand, Ms. Colôn called her attorney for advice. The advice she received was to vote for Ms. Esher as a write-in on the ballot she was given. But the ballot had no space for write-in voting and the machine that tabulates votes rejected Ms. Colôn’s ballot.

By any measure, Ms. Colôn is an exemplary and extraordinary American voter.

First and foremost, Ms. Colôn voted. Or rather, attempted to vote. By this measure, she beats 73% of New York state’s eligible voters (Times Union reports a 27% New York Primary turnout in 2018).

Ms. Colôn prepared, making sure she was registered to vote. She correctly identified her polling site location. She researched the candidates available to her. She entered her polling site with her voting decisions made. Exemplary.

Ms. Colôn fought to have her vote recorded, appealing in realtime to voting officials at her polling site, county-level voting official supervisors and a legal advisor for assistance when that outcome became tenuous. Extraordinary.

Now this primary was held in difficult times. The pandemic prompted polling site consolidation and poll worker attrition just as it increased voter enthusiasm and turnout. The pandemic increased the risk of mistakes by workers and voting officials.

But difficult times demand greater effort. Not less effort, not standard effort, but greater effort.

If Ms. Colôn had been on an operating table instead of at a polling site on June 23rd, she would rightfully demand that her surgeon be as invested as she in a positive outcome for their shared experience. If Ms. Colôn had sought counsel following some tragedy, she would rightfully demand that her spiritual counselor share in her burden of grief. Demands are rightfully made in marriage, in parenting, in education, in the law. Demands are standard fare in numerous experiences, in numerous institutions.

And it could not be more true that the surgeon’s obligation to a patient does not decrease if the day has been long and that the obligation of the spiritual counselor to the grief-stricken does not decrease if the need is troublesome.

So too, the obligation of every voting official at every level of community and government to protect the vote of every eligible voter does not decrease in difficult times. In difficult times, the totality of the voting official’s obligation to the voter remains intact.

There need not be nefarious intent for Ms. Colôn’s shared experience with Monroe County election workers and officials on June 23rd to be shocking. These workers and officials failed their obligation to Ms. Colôn and they failed their obligation to democracy.

We are in difficult times. These days, allegations of voter fraud fly through the air like fireflies on an Upstate night in June. Instances of election fraud are real. And talk of voter and election fraud is salient for a reason – the vote is sacred. The vote is the scalpel, the host, the ring, the diploma, the verdict. The vote needs to be protected. It needs to be revered and it needs to be secured.

New York’s voting officials at every level of government, no matter their beliefs or party affiliation, have an obligation, a civic duty akin to a sacred oath, to advocate for and ensure the vote of every eligible New York voter. Full stop.

Ms. Colôn has every right to be disappointed in her experience on June 23rd. She has the right to be enraged. Some will call her suit against the Monroe County Board of Elections frivolous. It is not. Protesting a failure by a board of elections to protect an individual vote is anything but frivolous.

As another contentious election approaches, let us all fulfill our own obligation to our town, our county, our state and our country to protect every American vote. It is what every American voter, including Belén Colôn, deserves.

Belén Colôn at 20th annual House of Mercy (Rochester, NY), St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality (Rochester, NY) and Pax Christi Rochester Stations Of the Cross in Today’s World, Rochester, NY April 19, 2020. Photo by John Haeger, from Catholic Courier Facebook page.

Cover photo: Belén Colôn at 20th annual House of Mercy (Rochester, NY), St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality (Rochester, NY) and Pax Christi Rochester Stations Of the Cross in Today’s World, Rochester, NY April 19, 2020. Photo by John Haeger, from Catholic Courier Facebook page.

Click here to read Natalia Rodriguez Medina’s Rochester Democrat and Chronicle article.

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