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Sports Venues Ready to Host a New Competition: The 2020 Election

25 Sep, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

It’s no secret that the biggest contest this fall isn’t in sports. And with many competition venues devoid of fans, an increasing number of stadiums and arenas will become what are known as Election Super Centers this year, acting as polling places for the community.

And when you think about it, it’s an ideal scenario. Sports arenas have lots of parking and weather-safe spaces, they're accessible and they offer plenty of room for social distancing. And as athletes have become increasingly outspoken on their political and social views, it is hardly a surprise that they would endorse this movement.

Professional sports franchises from Major League Baseball to the National Basketball Association and from the National Football League to the National Hockey League have already stepped forward to make their arenas and stadiums available to host elections this year. (The NBA, for example, has already published a list of sites that will be open for voting).

The announcement comes as boards of election across the country struggle with the challenge of balancing convenient voter access with CDC guidelines for COVID-19. Stadiums and arenas allow for social-distance voting while reducing lines, wait times, and other potential obstacles.

The multi-league action is being spearheaded by the Election Super Centers Project, a nonpartisan, joint initiative of the National Vote at Home Institute and Silver Linings Group to help team/arena owners/operators work with election officials to open large venues as polling sites in 2020. Another key player is More than a Vote, a nonprofit coalition of black athletes and artists.

The movement to offer up arenas as voting centers actually started over the summer, when three teams in the NBA – the Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks – made the move. The NBA – long the most vocal on social justice issues, stepped up civic participation.

The Hawks were the first to commit, providing State Farm Arena as an early voting site for Georgia's elections in August and November.

"We want people to exercise their right and we want to be a part of helping them do so," Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce told NPR.

The use of sports venues – generally located in urban areas and amid large populations, with all the amenities needed, including accessibility – was a natural progression for many facilities.

"This is really a historic moment for democracy and we have a unique role that sports facilities and teams can play in being partners for civic engagement this year," said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

MLB notes that Dodger Stadium was the first of its properties to commit. Closed to fans this year, the stadium and surrounding property have hosted various authorized functions, including the County’s largest COVID-19 testing site and Los Angeles Unified School District’s virtual graduation, while also serving as a staging ground for emergency equipment and a food distribution site for those experiencing food insecurity. So with that kind of a backdrop, it’s no surprise that come election day, polls will be there as well.

“Dodger Stadium is part of the fabric of Los Angeles, and we’re proud to continue to partner with the County to make the property available for the benefit of the community at large,” said Dodgers president & CEO Stan Kasten. “Voting is all of our civic duty, and we’re excited to work with More Than a Vote to do anything we can to help get out the vote by making this process as easy, accessible and safe for all Angelenos.”

More than a Vote established an advisory group, which has been helping guide the effort to transform stadiums and arenas into polling places. And no matter what the outcome, the important fact is that more Americans will be encouraged to vote.

 "American Democracy does not have a pause button," the advisory group wrote in a Front Office Sports op-ed. “During a civil war, two world wars, natural disasters, and domestic crises, we have managed to provide our citizens with the tools they need to fulfill the most fundamental civic duty. In this instance and in the absence of live sports, some of our most treasured civic institutions — our sports teams — can still open their doors to ensure that voting is convenient and safe for all."

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