Every four years, political parties from each US state, as well as the District of Columbia, select slates of electors to formally vote for the next president and vice president in the Electoral College. These roles are generally given to those with deep political connections.
However, this year, Washington, DC’s Democratic Party diverted from this trend and selected a group that is less representative of party stalwarts and instead reflects the community-at-large. Those electors will meet on December 14, when the Electoral College is set to formally cast its ballots across the country.
The Electoral College has a total of 538 electors. The winning presidential and vice-presidential candidates require 270 votes in the Electoral College to win the election. Democrat Joe Biden won 306 electoral votes, including the three from Washington, DC, to Republican President Donald Trump’s 232.
Two of DC’s electors are front-line workers amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the third has spent years working on DC’s fight for statehood.
Meedie Bardonille is a registered nurse and the chair of the District of Columbia Board of Nursing. Jacqueline Echavarria is a native Washingtonian, a veteran, and a Safeway grocery store cashier. Barbara Helmick is the director of programmes at DC Vote, a non-profit organisation committed to providing DC residents with full representation through statehood.
To celebrate the 100 years that have passed since the ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, all three of the District’s electors are women.
“They were very intentional with ensuring that they had three women representatives to represent the District,” said Bardonille.
Bardonille said the opportunity to be an elector for the District carries great significance. As a Howard University graduate and proud member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, she shares a connection with the first Black vice president-elect, Kamala Harris, a Howard graduate herself.
“I represent those that have been undervalued and underrepresented. I stand proudly as an American citizen who will cast the vote for the first African American woman and graduate of my alma mater, Howard University, to the highest office in our country.
“It is validation that we cracked not just the glass ceiling, but the concrete walls built to keep us out, and have finally taken our place at the political table,” Bardonille added.
As Bardonille prepares to cast her vote on December 14, she said she will be honouring the legacy of the women who made it possible.
“It means that I am participating in a system that was not designed for me. It is a unique and complex system, with a history filled of compromise and inequity, but today I am here … unbought, unbossed, unbothered as an African American woman, nurse, mother of a Black son fulfilling the dreams of those that paved the way before me.”
Bardonille hopes her vote can fill the gap for those who feel disenfranchised or overlooked by the political system.
“Casting the official vote of our next President and Vice President, I am getting into ‘good trouble’ as this walk for justice, equity and representation continues,” Bardonille said, using a famous phrase from the late US Representative and civil rights activist, John Lewis.
Bardonille does not take her responsibility to represent the District’s roughly 700,000 residents lightly.
“The process of being chosen as an elector has been humbling and received with a great sense of duty and honour.”
Jacqueline Echavarria is a lifelong resident of Washington, DC. A mother, grandmother, and veteran, Echavarria is also a front-line worker in the ongoing pandemic. She is a cashier at a Safeway grocery store and an active member of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, a labour union representing workers from a variety of industries.
Echavarria has dedicated much of her life to volunteering, and she believes this helped her land the role of an elector.
“Volunteering is probably the process in which I became an electoral delegate because the [Democratic National Committee] reached out to Local 400 and my union rep. Lynette Floyd recommended me because I was a volunteer with the Obama administration at the correspondence office.”
Echavarria said the opportunity to represent her hometown carries a special meaning, especially after experiencing what it is like to be away from her home.
“I am a native Washingtonian, and being in the Army and being married to an Army man, I’ve travelled several places. And believe me, there’s no place like home. And getting to represent Washington, DC as a native Washingtonian is like a bonus,” Echavarria said.
After losing her mother this year, Echavarria wants to honour her with the vote she will cast next week.
“My mother not only voted, but she also volunteered to work at the polls when she could. So casting my vote on the 14th would be like her final vote.”
As Echavarria looks ahead to this historic moment in her life, she has an important message for average citizens who do not think they can make a difference in their own community:
“I think that everyone can do something. Volunteering is, like I said, probably what brought me here, and I enjoy volunteering. So I think if everyone just gave a little bit of their time, because I don’t have any money, but I do have just a little bit of time. And I’m doing volunteering, and it’s so rewarding. So everyone can do something.”
Barbara Helmick has been a Washington, DC resident for more than 40 years and has become one of the strongest voices for DC statehood. Additionally, Helmick will be the first lesbian elector for DC.
“While I’m thrilled to represent women and represent the statehood movement, [I] also recognize that it is important that all our communities get recognized,” Helmick said.
Constitutionally, the District of Columbia was created not as a state, but as the “Seat of Government of the United States” under congressional control. DC residents pay federal taxes but do not have voting representation in Congress, something “statehood” advocates note when pushing for DC to become a full-fledged state.
Until 1964, the District of Columbia was not part of the Electoral College. A Constitutional amendment allocated three electors to DC, equal to the number of members of Congress it would have if it were a state.
While Helmick is honoured to have been selected as an elector, she recognises there is a lot of important work to be done.
“I will say, it’s almost a little ironic. It’s a little bittersweet. Because this is the only voting right that we have in DC. We don’t have voting rights in Congress. We don’t have self-representation.”
Helmick said she has mixed emotions about being chosen.
“I’m thrilled, I’m honoured. I will be a faithful elector. But it is with a note of anger at the overall injustice of the situation of those of us who live and raise our families and work and vote — the little voting that we get to do here in DC.”