For one of them, Meedie Bardonille, a cardiac ICU nurse by trade, the ballot will carry added significance. When she casts a vote for the nation’s first female vice president-elect, Kamala D. Harris, she will be voting as a fellow Black woman, a fellow Howard University graduate and a fellow member of the “Divine Nine,” the nine historically Black fraternities and sororities that make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council.
Her vote will also be part of the continued legacy of the 22 women who founded her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta — whose members were segregated to the back of a women’s suffrage parade in 1913 by its White organizers — and who helped pave the way for future Black political activists.
“Being a woman, being an African American woman,” Bardonille said, “I’m able to participate in a system that was not designed or created for me.”
It was about two months ago when Bardonille received a phone call from Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) telling her she wanted to nominate her to serve as an elector. Bowser knew Bardonille through her work as the chair of the D.C. Board of Nursing and thought she would be a good fit, Bardonille said. The 45-year-old mother, who lives in the Brookland neighborhood with her husband and 14-year-old son, said she was honored and humbled by the invitation.
When selecting electors this year, the D.C. Democratic Party wanted to make a point to select nonelected officials and to pick a slate of all women in honor of the anniversary of the 19th Amendment, said the party’s chair, Charles Wilson.
“With all that’s going on this year, we thought it was in the best interest of everybody to select everyday Democratic residents who are doing awesome work in their communities,” Wilson said. He asked party members to nominate people specifically in the health-care and grocery industries. “These are the folks that have been on the front lines. … They get up every day and go to work to make sure we’re safe, we’re healthy.”
In addition to Bardonille, the D.C. Democratic Party selected Jacqueline Echavarria, a 62-year-old Petworth resident who has worked for Safeway since 1997, and Barbara Helmick, a decades-long advocate for D.C. statehood who serves as the director of programs for DC Vote.
In the District hospital where she works, Bardonille manages a team of nurses. But she also continues to treat patients, including many covid-19 patients throughout the pandemic. She said she went to work every single day for 14 and a half weeks straight, even on days when she was supposed to be off. When she comes home, she disrobes at her door and showers before greeting her husband and son — a routine she and her colleagues are now well accustomed to.
The virus has also reached her in more personal ways, infecting her own team members and relatives, including a close aunt in Florida who was hospitalized twice. She stood next to a friend as she watched her father die of covid in an ICU, and she comforted a close friend who wasn’t able to be with his mother when she died in New York.
When she votes next month, Bardonille will not only be representing other nurses and front-line medical workers, but also generations of Black nurses who fought for advancement in their careers. She’s a member of Chi Eta Phi Sorority, a professional organization of registered nurses and nursing students that was founded at Freedmen’s Hospital in D.C., at a time when many Black nurses were relegated to segregated hospitals or positions that lacked opportunities for growth. It was a time when many chapters of the American Nurses Association did not admit Black nurses, she said.
She will also be representing the university that formed her. Coming from a predominantly White area in Easton, Pa., Bardonille had never had a teacher who wasn’t White. Much as vice president-elect Harris recalls Howard as the place that formed her into an adult, Bardonille said, “I was born in Pennsylvania but I was developed at Howard University.”
And on Dec. 14, she will cast a ballot for the first graduate of a historically Black college or university to be elected vice president.
While she is proud to be an elector, she feels conflicted about the electoral college itself. Bardonille said she worries the system makes some Americans feel as if their vote does not matter as much as in the few swing states that generally decide elections.
“It doesn’t represent the desire of the entire American citizenship,” she said. “It is not perfect, but it is still the most powerful tool we can use to participate in our democracy.”
When she casts that vote, Bardonille said, she will think about the 22 Deltas who marched behind the White suffragists in D.C. on that day in 1913. And she will think about her mother, who died when Bardonille was 4 years old and was a former leader in the NAACP in their community in Pennsylvania.
“I would love to think of her and all of my foremothers,” she said, “and all that they endured.”