In the end, a chance at casting one vote — a singular, sublime expression of civic duty and aspiration, of pique and passion — cost her $289.60.
But worth every penny to Domonique Williams. Every penny that she really can’t afford. But still worth it.
Hers is the story of an unusually dogged American voter, a little voice that could and would and did try to be heard. And it starts long before she was born.
That’s because Domonique certainly wouldn’t be who is she is, so persistent and unstoppable, if it wasn’t for her great-grandmother, Edna Murrell, still a force in Dominque’s life at age 91. “Mamma,” as Domonique calls her, grew up in the small-town North Carolina of a different era. She knew intimidation and discrimination of African Americans. She joined a union. She marched on Washington.
And it was Mamma who Domonique couldn’t stop thinking about when she encountered a voting blockade of her own, a bureaucratic mess that set her off on one young woman’s version of a modern voting odyssey. Edna had taught Domonique the value and privilege of voting, and she had to find a way to live up to that legacy. “I knew that people came before me,” she says — people who made a way for her.
Back in early October, Domonique, who is 27 and works as a contract administrative assistant at the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, requested an absentee ballot from election authorities in her hometown of Boston.
It didn’t show up.
Days passed, then a week, then a week-and-a-half. Still no ballot.
So she called. Not to worry, she says she was told. They’d gotten her request and would get her a ballot ASAP.
But it didn’t show up.
She called again. “Any day now,” she says she was told.
But it didn’t show up.
Domonique is not one to take things quietly. She complained to friends. And the more she talked the more perturbed she became. Two Boston area friends hadn’t gotten the absentee ballots they’d requested either. She thought: how could this be a coincidence?
“Mamma” came to mind again. “I see too many parallels, in terms of people who are now being disenfranchised,” she says. “I hated to think it could happen to me.”
Now, Domonique is no passive political participant. She’s volunteered for President Obama’s campaign. She’d volunteered in Democrat Martha Coakley’s unsuccessful 2010 U.S. Senate campaign against Republican Scott Brown. And her moment of clarity and unalloyed rage came while she was canvassing for the president this weekend in Hampton Roads, Va. — if a Massachusetts ballot wouldn’t come to here, she’d go to Massachusetts!
“The more I thought about it the more I become absolutely furious,” Domonique said. “It just started to add it up in my mind. It just seemed suspicious.”
By Monday, inspiration turned to action. She jumped onto the Internet and found a JetBlue ticket for $289.60. She did the math in her head. College loans. Rent. A day off work without pay. Ouch. But another generation of her family stepped up. This time it was her grandmother, Dorothea Jones, offering to help pay for the ticket.
Her family recognized that this was something Domonique wanted, and wanted bad. She wanted to vote and she wanted to file a complaint. She wanted to be heard. That was clear to her boss, Robert Rovinsky, when she showed up for work on Monday.
“She walked into my office . . . and she said I won’t be in tomorrow,” Rovinsky recalls. He asked her why.
“I’m going to vote,” Rovinsky recalls her telling him.
And so it was that come Tuesday morning, an unusually dogged American voter arrived at Reagan National Airport. She held a $289.60 ticket in her hand, and she boarded a plane.