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With help from a centenarian, Obama calls for voting reforms

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama got help from a 102-year-old woman on Tuesday in his quest to make voting easier across the United States.

The president, whose ad-libbed comment about long voting lines the night he won re-election has turned into a policy push, announced during his State of the Union address the launch of a bipartisan commission to make voting easier.

"We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home. That includes one of the most fundamental right of a democracy: the right to vote," he said.

"When any American, no matter where they live or what their party, are denied that right because they can't afford to wait for five or six or seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals."

One of the Americans he had in mind was Desiline Victor, a retired farm worker originally from Haiti, who faced wait times - at age 102 - of up to six hours on October 28, the first day of early voting in Florida.

She waited for three hours at a local library, her polling station, before coming back later to cast her vote, according to the White House.

"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," Obama said, as the elderly woman listened in the House of Representatives, where she was a guest of first lady Michelle Obama.

"And hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line to support her - because Desiline is 102 years old. And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read, 'I voted,'" Obama said to applause in the chamber. Victor, seeming to smack her lips while smiling, clapped along as people clapped for her.

Obama said he had asked the top attorneys to his 2012 re-election campaign, Bob Bauer, and his counterpart from then rival Republican Mitt Romney's campaign, Ben Ginsberg, to lead the commission. The group will develop recommendations to reduce waiting times at polling sites.

The White House also wants to make sure voting hassles are eased for members of the military, Americans living abroad, disabled people, and citizens who do not speak fluent English.

"We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it, and so does our democracy," Obama said.

(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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