Desiline Victor (center), a 102-year-old Florida voter, poses with election protection workers in Florida. (Photo courtesy of The Advancement Project.)
Victor, a retired farm worker originally from Haiti, was born in 1910, arriving in the United States in 1989. She is reportedly the oldest person ever invited to attend a State of the Union address.
She arrived at the North Miami Public Library at 9 a.m. on October 28th — the first Sunday of early voting — determined to cast her ballot, but lines stretched for up to six hours. After three hours waiting, other people standing in the long line complained to poll workers that the fiercely independent but elderly woman, who is known in the local Haitian community as “Granny,” was being forced to stand for so long, according to news reports, and Victor was asked to come back later in the day. When they saw her emerge after her second attempt, “I Voted” sticker pasted on, the assembled crowd of voters broke out into applause, with several remarking that despite the long lines, Victor’s determination encouraged them to stay and wait.
“Ms. Victor represents the kind of heroines and heroes that we had in Florida, who despite the legislative obstacles put in their way, came out in droves and exercised their human and constitutional right to vote,” said Gihan Perera, Executive Director of Florida New Majority, a statewide civil rights group that registered voters for the 2012 election. “What needs to be done now is to honor those efforts by restoring the public confidence in our voting system and ensuring that democracy works for all.”
Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature shortened the state’s early vote period from 14 days to 8 in a move many critics, including Florida New Majority and the Advancement Project, a national civil rights group that is bringing Victor to Washington, have criticized as having a disproportionate impact on minority and young voters to cast ballots, since both groups tend to more heavily utilize early, in-person voting.
“We know that thousands of American citizens were kept from casting their ballots because of long lines and other unacceptable barriers,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of Advancement Project. “In a democracy, we have a responsibility to keep voting free, fair and accessible with equal access to the ballot for all. These problems could be fixed with federal voting standards that include early voting, modernized registration and other measures that protect our right to vote. Currently, we have 13,000 different jurisdictions who run elections 13,000 different ways.”
An MIT analysis released this month found that Florida had the longest average wait times to vote of any state during the recent presidential election, followed by District of Columbia, Maryland, South Carolina and Virginia. And the study, led by political science professor Charles Stewart found that black and Hispanic voters waited nearly twice as long on average than whites voters did. And according to a study released by Ohio State University professor and the Orlando Sentinel, some 200,000 would-be Florida voters gave up in frustration because of the long lines.
President Barack Obama won Florida’s electoral votes after days of delays in counting the ballots, beating former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by 73,189 votes. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the 2011 election reform package that shrank the early voting period and who is up for re-election in 2014, now says he supports a change to a flexible system that would allow supervisors of elections to utilize between eight and fourteen early voting days.
Asked whether Victor’s presence was meant to put voting rights on the legislative agenda for Congress, an administration official, speaking on background, called voting rights “a clear priority” that Obama will touch on in his address, and which he plans to “expand on” afterward, and that Obama “made the added effort to include someone like Desiline Victor” on the official guest list.
article by Joy Reid via thegrio.com