State of the Union guest Desiline Victor, 102, will be the face of voting delays at address

During his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama spoke of a 102-year-old woman who was told she would have to wait six hours to vote last November. (The Washington Post)
February 11, 2013

When she set out to her local library in North Miami, Fla., to cast her vote in the presidential election last year, Desiline Victor had no way of knowing the journey would lead all the way to the White House.

On Tuesday night, Victor, a 102-year-old Haitian immigrant, will sit in the ornate House chamber as a guest of first lady Michelle Obama to listen to President Obama’s State of the Union address.

Victor voted for the president, but it was not easy. On her first visit to the polls on the morning of Oct. 28, the first day of early voting, she waited in line for three hours. Poll workers eventually advised her to come back later, and she did.

She finally cast her vote that evening.

Her story spread around the polling place and inspired some would-be voters to stay in line, too, instead of being deterred by the delays.

The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe gives you a sneak peek of who and what to look for when you tune in to watch the State of the Union. From the seating plan to who’s rubbing shoulders with the First Lady, there’s a reason and a story behind everything that happens at the historic annual address. (Ed O’Keefe and Theresa Poulson/The Washington Post)

On Monday night, Victor sat in a suite at the Hamilton Crowne Plaza hotel in Washington, a flight from Miami behind her. Ahead was a night in which she hopes meet the man she waited to vote for.

“I’m very happy, very proud,” she said, communicating through a translator because she speaks only Haitian Creole. The translator is her godson, Mathieu Pierre Louis, whom she raised as her son. She moved to the United States in 1989 and became a naturalized citizen in 2005.

She never expected to become a symbol, she said — she just wanted to vote.

But her story was amplified by advocates for election reform who say that what happened to Victor happens too often to others.

“She’s the American voter story of 2012,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project civil rights group. “She had the tenacity and the commitment to stay in line, but we know there were tens of thousands of others who didn’t get to vote.”

Dianis expects President Obama to touch on voting rights issues in his speech. He did so on election night and again during his inaugural address, when he said, “Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.”

When the White House contacted her organization looking for people who might represent the face of the problem, Dianis provided them with several possibilities. And that’s what led to tickets to Washington and a new outfit for the event for Victor. She will also visit the White House for a reception before the speech.

The whirlwind trip has taken Victor out of her element. She had to buy a coat, since a heavy winter jacket isn’t usually needed in balmy Miami. And here, she’s “Ms. Victor” instead of “Granny” — what everyone calls her back home.

But when she meets the president, perhaps the address may be less formal. Victor already feels a kinship with the commander in chief.

“I call him ‘my son,’ ” she says. “I feel like he is my son.”

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.
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