Oct 14, 2020 - Sports

Sports stadiums welcome voters, not fans

Map: Axios Visuals

The NBA just completed a historic season that required the league to shutter its arenas. Now, it will help execute a historic election by re-opening them to voters.

Why it matters: The momentum created by the NBA has extended to other leagues, culminating in the largest political effort the sports world has ever seen.

Catch up quick: Voting was an important issue for players inside the bubble, with PSAs airing during playoff games and teams wearing warm-up shirts with "VOTE" written across the chest.

  • Following a three-day strike in August in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, play resumed only after the league committed to converting arenas into polling centers for the 2020 election.
  • In other words, the most tangible outcome of the most historic strike in sports history is in-stadium voting. When athletes had all the leverage, that's what they demanded — and they got it.
Voting booths inside Atlanta's State Farm Arena. Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images
Voting booths inside Atlanta's State Farm Arena. Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

The state of play: Over 40 sports venues across 20 states will function as polling centers for the upcoming election. A few examples:

  • Atlanta: Georgia saw a record turnout when early in-person voting opened Monday, and many cast their ballots at State Farm Arena, which has 300 voting machines. Early reviews are very positive.
  • New York: Because of their size and location, sports venues are ideal for social distancing and accessibility. That's certainly the case for Madison Square Garden, which will serve 600,00 New Yorkers during early voting.
  • Los Angeles: Dodger Stadium, Banc of California Stadium (LAFC), Staples Center and SoFi Stadium will all serve as voting centers.
  • Detroit: Ford Field will not be a place to cast ballots, but rather to check them. The Lions' home stadium will host eight of 12 of Detroit's receiving boards.

Reality check: If arenas aren't team-owned, local election officials have the final say on whether they can be converted. Not all teams got approval.

  • Miami-Dade County rejected the Heat's attempt, for example, which did not sit well with Erik Spoelstra.
  • Milwaukee axed stadium voting for the Bucks and Brewers after state GOP leaders criticized their plans to use mascots.
State Farm Arena's voting booths. Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images
State Farm Arena's voting booths. Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

The big picture: In addition to helping make in-stadium voting a reality, athletes like LeBron James are also working to fight voter suppression.

  • Nonwhite voters are seven times more likely than white voters to wait in line for more than an hour, according to a 2017 study. The reason? Election officials send more resources to white precincts.
  • James' nonprofit, More Than A Vote, has signed up more than 10,000 poll workers to help shorten those wait times in critical battleground states.
  • More Than A Vote has also teamed up with Michelle Obama to host a series of events across the U.S. from Oct. 18-31, encouraging people to cast early ballots.

The bottom line: A record number of Americans will vote by mail this year, but for the millions still headed to the polls, sports venues could provide a safer and quicker option than traditional polling sites like schools and churches.

Go deeper: Stadium voting center details (ESPN)

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