Source : NY Times
In the first lady’s box at the State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Desiline Victor, 102, will be seated among Michelle Obama’s guests as a symbol of voters who faced long delays as they tried to cast ballots in last year’s elections.
Ms. Victor, a Haitian immigrant, went to vote to re-elect President Obama on Oct. 28, the first day of early voting in Florida. On that hot Sunday, she stood in line for three hours at her local library in North Miami, before a poll worker advised her to return later when lines would be shorter and she could get assistance in her native Haitian Creole language, which she did.
“No one should have to wait in line that long,” Ms. Victor said on Tuesday through an interpreter, Dabie Pierre-Louis, her godson’s wife, in a telephone interview from her hotel room in Washington. “But I was going to persist because I really wanted to vote.”
Mr. Obama was expected to use Ms. Victor’s story in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night to push for making voting and voter registration easier. Her struggle to vote has become symbolic of the obstacles voters nationwide faced as they tried to exercise their right to vote on or before Election Day.
Democrats are especially concerned about voting delays after studies suggested that long lines cost them hundreds of thousands of votes last year. Democrats in the House and Senate have already introduced bills that would require states to provide online voter registration and allow at least 15 days of early voting, among other things. And 14 states, including Florida, are considering whether to expand early voting.
But the efforts face strong resistance from Republicans, who favor tighter restrictions on voting to cut costs and prevent fraud.
Delays were particularly acute in Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled legislature cut early voting to 8 days from 14 days, despite long wait times in 2008. People waited as long as seven hours to vote in lines that were the longest in the nation. A study by an Ohio State University professor and The Orlando Sentinel concluded that more than 200,000 voters in Florida “gave up in frustration” without voting.
A Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysis determined that blacks and Hispanics waited on average nearly twice as long in line to vote as whites. Florida had the nation’s longest lines, at 45 minutes.
An extensive study by the Pew Charitable Trusts of the 2008 and 2010 elections concluded that the electoral system was plagued by deep and widespread problems with registration, wait times, lost votes and absentee and provisional ballots.
Advancement Project, a nonprofit civil rights organization in Washington, brought Ms. Victor’s case to the attention of the White House.
Ms. Victor, who became a citizen in 2005, said that no one had apologized to her for the wait, but that she was “happy and proud” to go to the White House and later attend the president’s speech.
She said she hoped to tell the president that many Haitians remain separated from their families and face insurmountable obstacles to becoming American citizens. She also wants her family members on the island to be able to get visas to visit her while she is still alive.