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Michael A. Shurmatz: We should value right to vote

As a U.S. Army veteran, I hold the freedom to vote as one of our most valuable rights. I consider this a right and civic duty of every American. On Election Day, I feel I upheld my duty. But it took longer than I thought it would.

My path to vote led me to four different polling locations. At each location, it was a similar story; I was not registered to vote and was thus sent away.

I’ve been registered in Erie County since 2003. From 2007 to 2011, I used an absentee ballot because of military service. Moving home last year, I did not think returning to my original polling location to take part in this historic election would be an issue. I was mistaken.

At the first three locations, I was turned away when I attempted to vote. When I asked why I could not use the affidavit ballot, when legislation had been passed saying I could, I was told this specific location was not my official polling location and it could not bend or break the “rules” for me.

At one location, I was actually told I was not allowed to vote. Not allowed to vote! I served my country and went to war to defend this right, yet I was told I am not allowed to exercise it.

Only at the fourth location was I finally given the opportunity to fill out an affidavit ballot. Two and a half hours of my time, a quarter tank of gas and immense frustration finally led me to what I was seeking: my right to stake a claim in the future of America. This right became more of a quest, which I saw through to the end, complete with twists and turns that would have sent most Americans home immediately.

I wish this story ended here. When I arrived home, I called the Erie County Board of Elections to find out what was going on. A disgruntled woman took my call and was having trouble understanding my questions. I explained the series of events and wanted to know what to do to ensure these same issues did not happen again the next time I vote. She told me there was nothing she could do and that I was being “ignorant” and hung up on me.

I called back immediately and luckily someone else answered. This gentleman was very helpful, explaining that because I had not physically voted in the county in several years, my status was made inactive. Voting in Erie County this year should reactivate my status and this issue should not reoccur.

I told him about the comments of the woman I spoke to before him, to which he could only apologize. After about three and a half hours, I finally had my vote cast and questions answered.

I have one reason for writing this – no matter what happens, everyone should vote. I made it a goal on Election Day to find a place where I could voice my small, yet important voice. It took a long time, but I accomplished my goal.

I do not know why the system made this so difficult for me this year, whether mistakes were made or people were misinformed. It doesn’t matter. I have a right, and come hell or high water, I am going to act on that right. I wish every American felt this way and took pride and put value into the right to vote.

I hope there are only a handful of similar stories across New York State, and that those people chose to find a way, too.