Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018 | 9:11 p.m.
Voting is how democracy works, a message former First Lady Michelle Obama brought to Las Vegas tonight as part of a national initiative, When We All Vote.
“Voting is a fundamental right,” Obama said. “And our vote is our voice.”
Celebrities and local activists spoke at Chaparral High School for When We All Vote, a nonprofit, nonpartisan voter registration and turnout effort. The Las Vegas rally was the flagship event for the group’s week of action through Sept. 29, with events nationwide. Obama is one of many who are traveling the country to talk about the importance of voting.
“My husband,” Obama said of former President Barack Obama, pausing when the crowd cheered and applauded. “He was looking forward to putting his feet up, kicking back, and not having to do this again and again and again, but he’s out there.”
Even with former presidents and celebrities urging people to vote, Michelle Obama said, turnout remains at roughly half among eligible voters during presidential elections and is even less for midterms. Residents like the people at the rally had the power to engage with their friends and neighbors to get them involved, she said.
Obama said democracy marches on without those who don’t vote. Some, she said, may feel turned off by politics, or might be too busy to vote or think that their ballot doesn’t matter because the system is “rigged,” a word President Donald Trump has repeatedly used to describe elections.
“I definitely get feeling frustrated, because believe me, I am frustrated too,” Obama said. “I am sick of all the chaos, the nastiness of our politics. It’s exhausting, and frankly, it’s depressing. So I understand wanting to shut it all out and just go on and just try to live your life, take care of your family in peace. But here’s the problem: While some folks are frustrated and tuned out and stay at home on Election Day, trust me, other folks are showing up.”
Some people vote in every election for every office, Obama said, from sheriffs, who control how streets are policed, to members of Congress, who can decide whether the country goes to war. Ballot initiatives nationwide seek to impact even more issues, she said.
“The folks who are voting know the impact that the leaders they pick can have on every single part of our lives,” Obama said.
The gym has capacity for about 2,000 people and was full for the rally, according to Clark County School District Police. Obama had to ask the crowd to quiet down after an audience member shouted that she should run in 2020. She told the crowd, “we need you,” sparking the audience to chant “we need you.”
“We had a great president,” Obama said, drawing cheers. “But every couple years, folks sat out and said, ‘Well, I did my part, I voted once, I’m done, I’m out.’ And I’m just telling you that Democracy doesn’t work that way.”
Voter suppression efforts, from closing polling places to telling voters they don’t have the knowledge to make a decision, are intended to keep people at home, Obama said.
“Not voting is like letting your grandma pick your clothes out,” or asking a stranger to decide whether water is clean, she said. “Now, no offense to grandma. … When you don’t vote, that’s exactly what you’re doing. You’re letting other people make some really key decisions about the life you’re going to live.”
Actresses Kelly McCreary of Grey’s Anatomy and Lana Parrilla of Once Upon a Time also spoke during the event. “When we all vote,” McCreary said, with Parrilla joining in to finish, “we all do better.”
Comedian Keegan-Michael Key, whose Comedy Central character Luther is the “anger translator” for what he said is an even-tempered former President Obama, told the audience, “don’t just use your words. You register, and you vote.”
Anne Hamasco-Bartolome, a Filipino immigrant who became a citizen Aug. 24, was among the speakers. She said that when she votes for the first time this election, she’ll be voting for her daughter’s future.
UNLV student Aaron Ibarra, a youth organizer for Mi Familia Vota who introduced Obama, said that when he was 8 years old and his father was deported, he was confused and scared.
“I can tell you, 12 years later, I’m not scared anymore,” he said. “I”m not scared, I’m angry, and it’s that anger that motivates me to go out to my community every single day and talk to as many people as I can, and knock on as many doors as I can, and tell as many people as I can, ‘hey, it’s time to vote.’”
Longtime Democrat and Las Vegas resident Gayle Bauer, who participated in the Clark County and Nevada state Democratic conventions, said she is concerned about Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh’s stances on abortion and bringing charges against a sitting president.
Kavanaugh has been accused of sexual misconduct, and Bauer said calls for an investigation should be bipartisan. A Senate judiciary committee hearing on the accusation is expected Thursday.
Bauer said she misses the previous administration’s “class, the reserve, the no drama, the inclusiveness, the deliberation, the intellect, everything that we don’t have today.”
Las Vegas resident and veteran Air Force medical technician Carmen Turner, 76, has been a Democrat since she was 18. Turner, recently retired, said her job of 13 years at the Wynn allowed her to train to register fellow employees and others to vote. She said she has registered about 100 people over the years, including roughly 30 this election cycle.
Turner said that as an African American voter, it’s especially important to vote this year “because I find that black people in general and minorities all over are not being treated properly.” She said she was “incensed” when Trump asked what African American voters had to lose in 2016 by voting for him.
She pointed to Trump’s comments about people on “both sides” being responsible for a fatal rally in Charlottesville, and his choice to be divisive rather than unifying when it comes to NFL kneeling during the National Anthem.
“The stance that he’s taking with the kneeling, instead of trying to explain everyone’s side of it, and saying OK, make your own decision, he’s just going against one side,” Turner said.
Las Vegas resident and 38-year-old stay-at-home dad Frank Dobbs appeared to be the lone protester outside the event, standing on the sidewalk with a sign referencing Trump asking what African American voters had to lose by voting for him in November. Dobbs, wearing a “Make American Great Again” hat that he purchased off of the Donald Trump website, said the rally at the school was a nonpartisan event, and he wanted attendees to see that there was more than the Democratic side.
“The Democrats, they promise so much stuff, and then they get elected, and then they don’t deliver, so why not try somebody like the outsider, like Donald Trump,” he said.
Residents in Nevada can request to vote by mail, and voting in person in 2016 took about 11 minutes on average, Obama stressed. She said people who are registered should encourage others to sign up.
Residents can find out more about voter registration at RegisterToVoteNV.gov. Clark County’s in-person voter registration deadline is Oct. 16, online Oct. 18. Mail registrations need to be postmarked by Oct. 9.
“If you are not registered to vote, please just get registered,” Obama said. “I don’t care who you vote for. Be registered, be involved in this, don’t be intimidated by it.”