Georgia's Fulton County thanks Hawks for use of arena in early voting, absentee ballot counts

The Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena played a big part in the 2020 election and Fulton County officials hope their system will help become a blueprint in future years.

The Hawks announced in June that the arena would be a polling precinct for the early voting period. It was the largest polling place in the state of Georgia and helped ease long lines, solve social distancing requirements and prevent previous issues that have plagued their elections.

Hawks arena helped with Fulton’s 315,000 voters

Lloyd Pierce shows a voter where to go.
Atlanta Hawks basketball coach Lloyd Pierce helps voters waiting in line at State Farm Arena to cast their ballot. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

The arena had 25 check-in sites and hundreds of voting machines available. Richard Barron, Fulton County’s election and registration department director, told WABE in June the partnership would allow for “tens of thousands” of voters.

During a news conference on Thursday announcing all absentee ballots had been counted, Barron said they were a big part in the early voting numbers.

“We had a fantastic early voting this time,” Barron said. “We voted more than 315,000 early voters and the Hawks were a big portion of that. They never had any lines here. They could process so many voters.”

There were some lines at the arena in photos from the first days of voting, but they were likely taken care of quickly given how many machines were available.

Hawks arena plan seen as ‘blueprint’

Barron and Robb Pitts, chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, both thanked Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, team owner Tony Ressler and the staff for their efforts during election season.

“Our goal early on was for voters in Fulton County to have a pleasing, pleasant, easy voting experience on Nov. 3. And we accomplished that,” Pitts said. “Were there a few issues regarding absentee ballots? Certainly but we rose to the occasion and accomplished what we wanted to accomplish so that I believe what we have in Fulton County now will be a blueprint for other jurisdictions to use as they figure out how to handle elections.”

The arena was also used to count absentee ballots over the past 48 hours as Georgia is one of the five remaining states still in play to determine presidency. There were fewer than 14,000 votes separating President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden in Georgia as of Thursday at 12 p.m. ET. The state’s senate seats are heading toward runoffs.

Why Hawks arena was so vital to battleground state

Georgia has a long history of disenfranchising voters and was one of the states to experience a myriad of problems during the June primaries. Many of those issues came in Fulton County due to a lack of poll workers, machines and sites. It created long lines and extensive waits to vote.

Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the Secretary of State, told WABE in June that 16,000 people were voting at one location in Fulton County during the primaries. He said due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing, only four to six people were allowed in a voting space at once.

The issues created a tense back-and-forth of blame between the state and the county. Having an arena able to house more people and in a populated area that is easy to access erased the issues from earlier this year, pivotal since the country’s eyes are on Georgia as the race tightens.

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