More than 298,000 people cast ballots at 40 professional arenas and stadiums used as voting precincts in the 2020 election, according to USA Today Sports. No location had more voters and arguably had a bigger impact than State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia, a state with a close presidential count that two upcoming Senate runoff races.
Nearly 40,000 of the 315,000 Fulton County residents who voted early did so at the home of the Atlanta Hawks, per USA Today Sports. It was arguably a difference maker as President-elect Joe Biden holds a slim lead of 14,163 votes (0.3 margin) over President Donald Trump as of count totals Friday morning. Both Senate seats will have a runoff in January.
Hawks helped Georgia take part in democracy
The Hawks were the first to offer up their home as a voting precinct in a unique year. The COVID-19 pandemic necessitates social distancing and teams were not playing from home given the conclusion of the NBA season at a bubble site in Florida. The arena did not deal with many lines — a previous issue in the county for the primaries — and more than 3,000 voters reportedly visited per day in the first week of early voting.
Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, who first had the idea, told USA Today Sports watching people vote at State Farm Arena was “much more emotional that I ever thought it would be.”
“We were helping our state, and our city, take part in the democratic process,” Koonin said, via USA Today Sports. “Also, we were helping to make voting easier. That’s how it should be. No one should wait in line for 10 hours to vote, or vote in a Kiwanis club or library. Nothing against those places but voting should take place in large venues.”
Fulton County election officials thanked the team for their help through early voting and for using the arena as a vote-counting location. They said they hoped Fulton County’s plans “will be a blueprint for other jurisdictions” in voting.
The race in Georgia is not yet called by the Associated Press. Officials have already initiated and started a hand-done count of the ballots as a “post-election audit.”
In both Senate races, no candidate received at least 50 percent of the vote so those will go to runoffs with the two top vote-getters in each race.
Dodgers, Lakers fans celebrate titles with votes at arena
Staples Center and Dodger Stadium were both used as voting hubs, allowing residents to cast ballots at the location of their choice rather than an allocated spot. They were among the highest-grossing vote centers in the county, per USA Today Sports.
Observers said people showed up in team gear, seemingly celebrating the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Dodgers recent championships. There was a clear excitement about voting at a sporting arena.
“Professional sporting venues and their corresponding franchises played an important role in the general election,” Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan wrote in an email to USA Today Sports. “Not only in serving as a vote center, but as a community partner in civic engagement and enfranchisement.”
Organizations used social media and athletes used their voices to urge people to register and then make a plan to vote. There was record turnout across the nation and more Americans cast ballots in 2020 than they have in a century.
Will voting at favorite teams’ arena continue?
More than 30,000 people voted at Dallas’ American Airlines Center and New Orleans’ Smoothie King Arena, per USA Today Sports. And twice as many people voted at Chicago’s United Center than at any of the city’s other universal spots.
The 298,000 total is based on partial data and New York did not provide any information on its two sporting venues.
It’s clear that voting at an arena was beneficial for wait times, social distancing and excitement about the process. If it will continue is unclear since 2020 was, and is, an odd year. In any other presidential year, teams would be using their arenas in nearly every sport around October and November (MLB could be the exception). Voters were driven by calls for social justice and concern over healthcare. And in many states, early voting was expanded due to the pandemic.
Using arenas again would take a lot of pre-planning on sports scheduling, though if they stuck to only presidential elections it would be only once every four years. The partnerships worked and it would be a boost to the democratic process to see it continue.
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