First-time voters and centenarians, naturalized citizens and ancestors of enslaved people, the world’s brightest stars and the hard-working citizens who maintain polling sites all gathered to celebrate democracy and urge people to vote in the upcoming US presidential election during the Every Vote Counts: A Celebration of Democracy broadcast on Thursday and digital premiere on Friday.
The joyous event was hosted by Alicia Keys, America Ferrera, and Kerry Washington, and featured appearances by a broad array of US citizens, showcasing the country’s vibrant diversity. Viewers were invited to make plans for voting, reflect on their role in democracy, and encourage others to participate.
“When we vote, our voices shape our democracy,” Washington said at the start of the nonpartisan event. “Patriotism isn’t political, and tonight, we stand together as mothers and daughters, as fathers and sons, as people showing up for each other.
“Whatever your political beliefs, when we show up and express those beliefs through our vote, that is what love for our country looks like,” she added. “And when we all vote, we move toward the equality, justice, and truth that we as Americans so urgently need.”
In between moving performances from artists such as Shawn Mendes and Alicia Keys and Brandi Carlili, guests explored the history of voting, addressed what will happen if the election results are unclear on the night of Nov. 3, and imagined a future in which everyone is able to cast their ballot.
Here are the best moments from Every Vote Counts.
1. The Bethune-Cookman University Marching Wildcats put on a flawless show while wearing masks.
The Bethune-Cookman University Marching Wildcats from Daytona Beach, Florida, kicked off the show with an energetic and hopeful performance. Everyday voters and band members shared what being an American means to them throughout the number.
Band members said being an American means everything from “looking out for the good in people” to “honoring my ancestors, my people, and my country.”
2. First-time voters Billie Eilish, Offset, and Shaquille O’Neal celebrate everyone who is voting for the first time.
Singer-songwriter Billie Elish called on her fellow Gen-Z Americans to get out the vote for this election.
“To all the new 18-year-olds out there like me who can vote this year, do it,” she said. “If you care about yourself, your family and friends, and our future, vote.”
The moment also included appearances from other stars and everyday people alike.
Alexa Rodriguez, from Baltimore, Maryland, shared that it was her first time voting as a transgender woman. “I’m so excited because I represent my community and I’m voting for you,” she said.
Rapper Offset held up his “I Voted” sticker.
“Get out here and go to them polls,” he said.
Memphis Cleveland, a young woman from Black River Falls, Wisconsin, and a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, explained why she’d like to see more representation in government.
“I need more people like me and like my fellow tribal members to be in places like Congress and to see people that look like me and know the struggles that I go to on a daily basis,” she said.
For Chioma Okoroafor, a 23-year-old Marine Corps veteran, voting in this election means a lot to her because African Americans and women once couldn’t vote, she pointed out.
Former NBA basketball player Shaquille O’Neal encouraged viewers to help make a difference with their vote.
“Make sure you get out and vote,” he said. “Only you can make the change,” he said.
3. Shawn Mendes sings his new hit “Wonder” in an acoustic live set for the first time.
Singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes delivered a moving performance of his latest single “Wonder.” He played the piano on a darkly lit stage as information flashed on the screen to join the Every Vote Counts campaign by texting PLEDGE to 31-318. Celebrities were so blown away by the performance that they took to Twitter to applaud Mendes.
4. Alicia Keys narrates an informative segment on the history of the right to vote in the US.
“That ballot of yours, the right to mark it up with your hopes and dreams — that was fought for,” Keys said.
The singer explained that not everyone in the US has always had the right to vote. Keys walked viewers through a voting rights timeline, including the 15th Amendment, which gave African American men the right to vote, and the 19th Amendment that gave some women the right to vote. Keys went on to explain the 24th Amendment, which outlawed poll taxes as a voting requirement, and the 26th Amendment, which gave 18-year-olds the right to vote.
“That sacred ballot of yours was written in blood, sweat, and tears, so mark it up with your hopes and your dreams. Keep history and progress on the march,” she said.
5. Leonardo DiCaprio calls on everyone to vote.
Actor and producer Leonardo DiCaprio tuned in from home to encourage all Americans to vote, regardless of their identity.
“Our democracy should work for everyone, but it takes everyone’s active participation,” he said. “We need to be active. Whether Tuesday is your first time voting in an election or your 21st, no matter your gender, your sexual orientation, the color of your skin, or your heritage — your vote matters. Please go out and vote. Make sure your voice is heard.”
6. Kerry Washington hears directly from everyday citizens about why they’re voting.
Actress and producer Kerry Washington spoke with Beatrice Lumpkin, who has voted in 21 presidential elections, and Carolina Hidalgo-McCabe and Michael Franklin, two young first-time voters.
“It’s 100 years since women won the legal right to vote and we’re still not equal,” Lumpkin, a 102-year-old woman from Chicago who went viral when she mailed her ballot in a hazmat suit, told Washington. “Women’s rights are an issue in this election and voting gives us power.”
Hidalgo-McCabe, 24, lives in Miami and shared that she’s voting for her father, who fled Cuba’s dictatorship to come to the US.
Franklin, 21, from Washington, DC, said he identifies as Black and queer and wants to pay tribute to his ancestors with his vote.
7. Amy Schumer and Chris Rock hilariously outlined everything you need to vote in person.
Singer Kelly Clarkson shared that she, just like anyone else, has some questions about voting before deferring to comedians Amy Schumer and Chris Rock to answer them.
Rock told Schumer to bring along an ID, proof of address, and snacks to the polls, but she misunderstood some of the requirements. Schumer geared up to vote with all the wrong materials — a pool float, a Blockbuster ID card, and a photo of herself lounging as proof of address.
Schumer directed viewers online to find more detailed information about what they need to vote in person.
“I heard you can just go on HeadCount.org and make sure that you’re registered, and that there are no changes to your polling place,” she said.
8. Offset honors Black men who vote with a performance of “Lick.”
Singer Alicia Keys introduced rapper Offset, who shares a similar story to many formerly incarcerated people or those convicted of felonies who were wrongfully told they could no longer vote.
“Most states have restored voting rights to those who believed they would never be
able to cast a ballot,” Keys said. “And recently — after he found out the truth — he proudly voted for the first time.”
Offset lifted up a set of handcuffs before jumping into “Lick,” a song about his journey to fame and the struggles of being Black in America. He sang on an animated stage with inspiring voting messages and images. Men appeared on stage wearing shirts with uplifting phrases, including “Black Men Vote” and “My Vote Matters.”
9. Lin-Manuel Miranda gets nostalgic about voting.
Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda reflected on how special voting with his mother was growing up.
“Voting is the most powerful way to express who you are and what you care about,” he said. “So this election season, shout it. Sing it. Let the drumbeats for America's future grow louder and louder ... because Election Day is special for us all.”
10. Youth poets powerfully illustrate America is at its best when democracy works.
Four young poets broke into powerful poems from each of their neighborhoods across the country.
Alora Young, 17, walked down a wooded trail in Nashville, reciting: “My great-great grandmother was a slave / She took thoughts of freedom to her unmarked grave,” she said. “Her daughter stood alongside / Sisters for rights that would never be hers in a lifetime / Revolution is embedded in my bloodline.”
Nyarae Francis, 16, walked down a suburban street in Inglewood, California, applauding women’s accomplishments.
“With a revolutionary number of women running for office / Over 100 women sworn into the 116th Congress,” she said.
Francis also asked voters to help drive change.
“We’re in this, undivided. This fire inside, ignited,” they said. “The love we give, requited. Our fists up, united. The future is waiting for us to write it.”
11. Dan + Shay deliver a heartfelt performance of “When I Pray For You.”
Chris Martin introduced country-pop duo Dan + Shay, but not without sharing why voting is important first.
“Wherever we’re born, wherever we live, elections are our best hope for a safe and sustainable future,” he said. “Please, if you can vote, get out and vote.”
Shay Mooney started the performance by dedicating the song “When I Pray For You” to his two sons, Asher and Ames.
12. America Ferrera helps Americans understand why the election results might take longer than usual.
Actress America Ferrera hosted a roundtable with members of Count Every Vote’s National Council on Election Integrity — former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) and former Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN). The two former senators laid out why it may take longer to learn the winner of the 2020 presidential election during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is expected that 70 to 75 million Americans will be voting by mail or with absentee ballots this year, Daschle explained. He also stressed that media outlets should not race to announce a winner prematurely.
Daschle and Frist asked Americans to be patient with the electoral process.
“The misperception that is being projected by some that our election process is flawed, that it’s full of mistakes to be made, that it has no integrity, is just absolutely wrong,” Frist said.
13. Lizzo invites people to use their voices to empower others.
“As a Black woman, I have often been made to feel like my voice doesn’t matter,” Lizzo said. “Constantly silenced. Told to look different, sound different, be different. You may feel that same way right now. But listen up.
“That resistance, it pushed me, and it helped me discover my voice and use it to empower others to find theirs,” she said.
The award-winning artist was followed by activists and advocates who all found their voices in times of hardship.
Basma Alawee received asylum in the US after enduring years of war in Iraq. Now she uses her voice to champion refugee rights.
“I realized my voice mattered when, as a refugee in the US, I was given the opportunity to speak and share my community struggle,” she said during Every Vote Counts.
For Alex Birnel, a youth activist from San Antonio, Texas, personal hardships inform his political organizing.
“Ever since I was a little kid with a mom from Panama and dad from Michigan, politics has been at my dinner table,” he said. “Also growing up with cerebral palsy, I know what it means to face inequity.”
14. Latinx citizens celebrate the power of their vote.
Puerto Rican Americans, Cuban Americans, Mexican Americans, and Venezuelan-Colombian Americans shared their thoughts on voting in the upcoming election during Every Vote Counts.
“Democracy is not a noun, it’s a verb,” said Maria Hinojosa, author and host of NPR’s Latino USA. “[There are] 32 million Latinos and Latinas. You know what we can do with this election?”
In swing states across the country — from Florida to Arizona — Latinx voters are expected to play a decisive role in the election’s outcome.
“I especially want the Latino community to know their power and make their voices heard, to get loud,” said actor and singer-songwriter Jennifer Lopez.
Immigration, in particular, is a major issue for actor and advocate Wilmer Valderrama because of the critical role immigrants have played in forming this country.
“Immigrants from around the world came to this land and, brick by brick, made it a country,” he said.
15. Poll workers share what brought them to the polls.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the presidential election in unprecedented ways, creating a surge in mail-in ballots and changing the way people vote in-person. The threat of the virus led to poll worker shortages across the country. But brave people from all walks of life stepped up to perform this important civic duty.
“I chose to be a poll worker because I want to serve my country in some way or another,” said Candice Knibb.
Linda Aguilar, another poll worker, said “it's been so exciting to share the excitement with the voters.”
The segment also featured rousing reminders of what democracy means.
“We live in a system of people power,” said writer, activist, and comedian Baratunde Thurston. “That's literally what democracy means. People, that’s us. Power, that’s what we got. And we determine our future.”
16. John Kasich urges new citizens to vote.
John Kasich, the former governor of Ohio, welcomed newly naturalized US citizens and invited them to take part in the upcoming election.
“Change comes from the bottom up,” he said. “When the people speak, the leaders listen.”
This year, naturalized citizens comprise roughly 10% of the electorate, making them a significant and highly diverse constituency.
Some of the most recent naturalized citizens include Tan France, fashion designer and co-host of Queer Eye, who moved to the US from the UK in 2008.
“Now that I’m a citizen, I get to exercise my right to vote,” France said. “I get to potentially effect change in this country and fight for my beliefs and my hopes for the future.”
17. First-time voter Jonezie Cobb brings us along for her voting experience.
From getting all her paperwork in order to donning protective gear, Cobb took viewers along as she got ready to cast her very first ballot.
“I feel like I made my ancestors and my family so proud in this moment,” Cobb said after exercising her right to vote.
18. Voters make the case for joyful voting.
Voting allows a citizen to move democracy in ways that can transform the lives of their friends, families, and neighbors. As a result, voting is a fundamentally communal act, a belief in a shared purpose, a promise that you’re looking out for others.
Voters from across the US gathered in this segment to remind viewers of the civic joy of voting.
19. Alicia Keys and Brandi Carlile release get-out-the-vote anthem “A Beautiful Noise.”
Alicia Keys and Brandi Carlile closed the evening with a powerful performance of their new song “A Beautiful Noise.“ As they sat at opposing pianos, the two artists shared verses, harmonized, and built to a rousing chorus that will leave voters with goosebumps.