Hawks act on chosen cause, turn State Farm Arena into Georgia's largest voting precinct

The Atlanta Hawks organization is doing more than talking about voting rights and advocacy. The Hawks and Fulton County announced Monday that State Farm Arena, where the Hawks have played for two decades, will become a voting precinct.

The additional location will help ease long lines Georgia experienced during the primaries, assist voters with social distancing amid the COVID-19 crisis and possibly result in more arenas becoming polling places.

Hawks’ to host polling location

State Farm Arena, which houses 16,600 fans for basketball games, will be the largest polling place in Georgia history, the county announced. The arena is owned by the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority, which leases it to the Hawks.

It will be in use for the Georgia general primary runoff election from July 20 through Aug. 11 and the November general election, which also has early voting.

Richard Barron, Fulton County elections director, told WABE there will be 25 check-in sites and a couple hundred voting machines.

The partnership will allow for “tens of thousands of voters,” per the Hawks, to cast ballots while social distancing as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said part-time and full-time workers at State Farm Arena will help out during voting and the team will have IT partners around. The group hopes it will be the “most efficient” voting precinct as well as the largest.

Voting turnout, rights a focus for Hawks

After a discussion on race in early June, the Hawks chose voter turnout and voting rights as a cause to focus on, Sarah K. Spencer reported for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Koonin came up with the idea for the voting precinct and both owner Tony Ressler and head coach Lloyd Pierce jumped on board in “about a nanosecond.”

Piece spoke about turning the arena into a voting center two weeks ago. He’s hoping other coaches and organizations also consider doing the same while teams are at Disney World to conclude their 2019-20 seasons.

Players will also be involved in the effort, per Spencer.

Georgia experienced voting issues in primary

Architects Populous' (previously HOK Sport) State Farm Arena, home of the Atlanta Falcons basketball team and WNBA Atlanta Dream basketball team in Atlanta, Georgia on July 28, 2019.  MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE.  (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)
State Farm Arena will become a voting place for the Georgia primary runoff and the presidential election. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

Georgia has a long history of disenfranchising voters and was one of the states to experience myriad problems during the primary in June. LeBron James criticized it on Twitter, asking if “how we vote is also structurally racist?” The following day he announced the launch of a voting rights group that includes celebrities and fellow basketball stars. “More Than A Vote” released its first ad a week ago.

One of the largest problems in past years has been states, mainly in the south, shuttering polling places. Travel and time constraints are pressing issues when it comes to voting and can deter Americans from doing so. Opening up an entire arena, especially during times of social distancing, will make a dent into that issue. There’s also the allure of saying you voted where your favorite team or player competes.

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