Sports arenas utilized as voting facilities


Krissy M. Rardin, Copy Editor

Many sports fans and athletes were disheartened to miss out on their favorite seasons this year. In light of the presidential election, many were able to visit their arenas for another reason: voting. These scenes played out across the country earlier this month as many professional and college sports facilities accommodated the election process. Venues, empty of their usual fans, hosted voter registration drives, drop-off spots for mail-in ballots and vote counters. 

As the pandemic went on through spring and then into summer, election officials realized they faced a daunting challenge. Voter interest was markedly high following the death of George Floyd and the blatant social injustice throughout the country. Citizens needed avenues to safely make their voices heard, which led to increases of mail-in ballots. However, many expressed concerns over mail-in voting and wanted to employ the traditional method. 

It takes a lot to accommodate the voting process. Venues need to be large enough to allow for social distancing, have reliable internet, ample parking, security features, access to public transportation and in many cases, be available for six weeks. Paul Gronke, professor of political science at Reed College, recalls the epiphanic moment: “When these sports facilities started coming in, I think for a lot of people in my community, it was one of those head-slapping moments. Like, boy, that’s obvious, isn’t it?”

Following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., the players’ association entered into an agreement that made the NBA first to offer their arenas for voting. 23 teams converted arenas and practice facilities into spaces for voting and voting-related activities such as early voting, poll worker training, ballot drop-offs, voter registration and Election Day voting. Other venues across the country made similar accommodations, including the Capital One Arena in Washington D.C., Chicago’s United Center, Dallas’ American Airlines Center and New Orleans’ Smoothie King Arena. The Atlanta Hawks’ State Farm Arena hosted over 40,000 voters alone. In Los Angeles, venues such as Staples Center and Dodger Stadium were among the highest-grossing votes centers in terms of voter turnout. 

Considering that these venues would not be available sans pandemic, this could prove to be a one-time situation. However, with the excitement generated in association with arenas and voting, many are optimistic that we could see this use of arenas in future elections. Paul Gronke said of this: “A sports arena has a sort of community feeling. There’s the fan base, and the sense that it’s a gathering place. I hope that those arenas become a trend. I don’t know if it will be, but I hope it does.”

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