Monday, February 18, 2013

Florida voting woes

Desiline Victor wanted desperately to vote in November’s presidential election. She showed up at her North Miami precinct on the first day of early voting and inched along in a six-hour line. Three hours later, a poll worker wisely suggested that the 102-year-old “granny” should go home and return later. She did and finally voted to the applause of those in line.

On Tuesday, Ms. Victor sat with quiet dignity in the First Lady’s box at the State of the Union as President Barack Obama recognized her. It was one of the few moments during Mr. Obama’s speech when members of the often deeply divided chambers of state stood in unity.

It was a proud moment, but it should not have been.

Ms. Victor should not have had to stand in a hours-long line to vote in the richest democracy on earth the way citizens in the former Soviet Union used to stand in line for bread. And it’s even more dumbfounding when the wait could have been avoided if Republicans in the Florida Legislature had not collapsed the number of days for early voting. Then, amid pleas from elections supervisors, civic groups and voters, Gov. Rick Scott refused to extend early voting hours.

More than anything, those actions secured Florida’s position as the nation’s election laughing stock — again. No wonder many asked why Floridians were allowed to vote at all.

Now everyone’s scrambling. Among the positive steps that could make the next election operate as it should, Miami-Dade commissioners recently decided to advocate for a 14-day early voting period, including the Sunday before Election Day, which the Republican-led Legislature had eliminated. The decision is a reversal for commissioners, who had voted in December to recommend adding only the Sunday before Election Day to early voting. A nod to freshman Commissioner Jean Monestime, who back in September was calling for the state to restore early voting to 14 days.

Good, if belated, news also came from Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who recently told a House committee that Gov. Scott now favors a 14-day early voting period as well as more sites to be opened up for early voting, including courthouses and civic centers.

In Washington, Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and California’s Barbara Boxer have co-sponsored the LINE Act to help ensure that no American voter has to wait longer than an hour to cast a ballot. The senators should also consider a good proposal from the Brennan Center for Justice. It calls for modernizing voter registration, providing more early voting opportunities, and setting minimum national standards for polling place access.

In his address on Tuesday, President Obama announced the appointment of a bipartisan commission to make recommendations on how to “improve the voting experience in America.” The president’s rare display of pique over the past four years came during his victory address on Election Night when he ad-libbed, “We have to fix that,” referring to the long lines.

It’s often said in Washington that politicians create a commission if they want an issue to go away. Americans, such as Ms. Victor, would be sorely disappointed if that were the case here.

This country is often seen as an example to the world of how a democracy should function. The Legislature and Congress must move swiftly to ensure voting is accessible and convenient to all voters in Florida and throughout the nation. That’s not a luxury — it’s a fundamental right.


102-Year-Old Voter Returning Home to Miami after State of the Union

Well-wishers still have one more showing of appreciation planned: A welcome-home party with balloons, flowers and signs for Desiline Victor
By Juan Ortega
|  Wednesday, Feb 13, 2013  |  Updated 2:18 PM EST Voter, 102, Returning to Miami after State of the Union
Courtesy of Elbert Garcia, a spokesman of Florida New Majority
Determined 102-year-old voter Desiline Victor, of Miami, was invited to attend Tuesday's State of the Union address.

Photos and Videos

A South Florida centenarian experienced a whirlwind adventure in Washington, D.C., joining first lady Michelle Obama for Tuesday's State of the Union and receiving applause from lawmakers during President Barack Obama’s address.
Although Desiline Victor’s Washington trip was winding down Wednesday, well-wishers still have one more showing of appreciation planned: A welcome-home party with balloons, flowers and signs for her at Miami International Airport, where Victor's flight was expected to arrive in the afternoon.
“To be able to see her acknowledged, it makes you feel really good that she is appreciated,” said Elbert Garcia, a spokesman of Florida New Majority, one of the organizations that helped bring attention to Victor’s story.
Tuesday, Victor, 102, of Miami, was seated in the House visitors’ gallery as Obama cited her as an example of early voting obstacles in the presidential election. Victor was so determined to exercise her right to vote last fall that she made two trips and waited several hours to vote for Obama.
“We should follow the example of a North Miami woman named Desiline Victor,” Obama said. “When she arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait to vote might be six hours. And as time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say.”
Obama continued: “Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line in support of her. Because Desiline is 102 years old. And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read ‘I Voted.’”
During Obama’s address Tuesday, several people stood and applauded Victor.
Victor, a farmworker from Haiti, was born in 1910 and arrived in the United States in 1989. She was naturalized in 2005 and first voted in the 2008 presidential election.

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