Desiline Victor, a Florida centenarian who persevered for hours in a voting line last November, was given a presidential shout-out and standing ovation during the State of the Union address on Feb. 12.

“When Desiline arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait to vote might be six hours,” President Obama said. “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. And hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line to support her — because Desiline is 102 years old. And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read, ‘I voted.’”

Victor, a native Haitian and retired farmworker now living in North Miami, was present in the congressional chamber during the speech as a guest of Michelle Obama.

The elderly voter’s experience was indicative of a broken election system, the president said. He announced a nonpartisan commission to fix the problems at the ballot box, saying, “When Americans, no matter where they live or what their party, are denied because they can’t afford to wait for five or six or seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals.”

The Advancement Project, the voting rights group that brought Victor’s story to the attention of the White House, seconded the president’s remarks, saying her case was one of thousands.

“Ms. Victor’s story of waiting for hours to vote is both inspirational and tragic at the same time,” Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis said in a statement. “Thousands applauded her when she emerged with her ‘I Voted’ sticker and her dedication was the reason why many of them decided to stick it out despite the long wait. What we need however, are federal standards for voting. Unfortunately, we have 13,000 election jurisdictions that run elections 13,000 different ways. That is what we have to fix.”

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO