What the Desiline Victor Act Does
A guest of the first lady's at the State of the Union has inspired a push for a new voting-rights law in Florida.
(The Root) -- If there is one woman who has stolen the show from President Obama during his State of the Union addresses, it has been his wife, first lady Michelle Obama. Her attire and arms have previously garnered almost as much attention as his speeches.
But during his most recent State of the Union address in February, the first lady was upstaged by another woman: 102-year-old Desiline Victor. Victor received a standing ovation from the bipartisan audience. The president praised Victor, saying the following:
We should follow the example of a North Miami woman named Desiline Victor. 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. 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."
Victor not only stole the show; she also stole the hearts of millions of Americans, and now she has inspired a new voting-rights bill in the state of Florida.
Desiline's Free and Fair Democracy Act aims to ensure that future voters don't endure the obstacles to voting that Victor encountered. Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, which specializes in voter-rights litigation, told The Root, "Florida has had a history of making voting harder for Floridians, and the state continues to be a voting disaster. It's not just about the long waits in lines. Florida had the voter purging that happened in 2012. In 2000 we had people being purged from the lists erroneously."
But Dianis highlighted an issue that she believes distinguishes Florida as one of the worst of the worst states when it comes to the issue of voting rights. "It's a state that has over 1 million people who can't vote because of felony convictions. They've paid their debt to society. They've done their time, but they still can't vote," Dianis explained.
The bill, if it becomes law, would primarily address the following:
* Enabling people with felony convictions who have completed their sentences to register to vote
* Allowing automatic voter registration at places like the Department of Motor Vehicles
* Creating online voter-registration systems that make it easier to register and vote.
The bill focuses on administrative measures, with good reason. Many of the delays that voters experience tend to have two primary causes: errors related to a voter's registration, such as the polling site not reflecting where someone has moved; and a lack of proper staffing at polling sites, particularly when it comes to early voting.
Dianis acknowledged that in addition to partisanship, as well as the fear among some that an increasingly brown and diverse electorate threatens their political power, one of the main hurdles to improving the American voting system is funding. It costs money to hire additional staff for polling places and more efficient machines, but Dianis believes that the cost to our democracy is far greater if we don't make the necessary investments. As she explained, Florida is far from the only state with a voting system that any citizen in a first world country should be embarrassed by. "I waited in line seven hours to vote in Maryland," she said.