The sight of Americans using NBA arenas as polling stations could become commonplace in the future as teams consider using their arenas as polling stations for upcoming elections.
Twenty-three of the League’s 30 franchises have made their arenas or practice facilities available for election-related activities for the 2020 presidential election, as the NBA, the NBA Players Association and the teams worked with local election officials to convert the facilities into polling stations. This provided voters with a secure way to vote in person amidst the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Of these, 18 were used as polling stations on election day, and the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks told Washington Newsday that they would consider doing so again in future elections.
“Sports teams bring together people from diverse backgrounds and at their best, they inspire us and encourage us to unite,” said Kevin Grigg, the Pistons’ Senior VP of Public Relations.
“Our intention is to continue to make our facility available for elections in the future.
The Pistons’ training facility, the Henry Ford Performance Center, served as a venue for voters in Wayne County, Michigan, to cast their ballots early.
The venue also served as a reception center for the Detroit City Clerk, who received the completed ballot boxes from Detroit precincts on election night. Approximately 150 Pistons employees, who served as election workers, received the completed ballot boxes from precincts throughout the city.
Meanwhile, the Hawks transformed the State Farm Arena into a voting district in Fulton County, Georgia. The venue opened its doors for early voting on October 12, the earliest of all NBA teams.
“With COVID-19, the franchise CEO, Steve Koonin, knew there was a way to get votes in the arena quickly and securely,” Garin Narain, the Hawks’ VP of public relations, told Washington Newsday.
“It [serves as a voting venue]is definitely something we would consider in order to resolve any scheduling issues.
The Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers were also among the teams that used their arenas for election-related activities. In Chicago, the United Center served as a same-day registration site, as well as a venue for personal voting and the return of postal votes.
In Indianapolis, the Bankers Life Fieldhouse served as a polling station on election day.
When asked if they would consider using their arenas for voting activities in the future, both the Bulls and the Pacers declined to comment.
Like the NFL and the MLB, the NBA proactively campaigned in the run-up to election day to increase voter turnout, which has long been a problem in U.S. elections.
Meanwhile, several NBA players supported the “More Than A Vote” campaign launched by James and former First Lady Michelle Obama to combat misinformation directed at black voters and ensure that black Americans were registered to vote.
The efforts seem to have paid off.
According to data from the National Election Pool and Edison Research, voter turnout rose in California, Michigan, Indiana, Georgia, Florida, Arizona, Ohio, Texas, Colorado and Utah compared to four years ago in the districts where an NBA arena served as either a voting venue, a place to cast early voters’ ballots, or for other election-related activities.
Significantly, all 14 precincts voted for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
In at least two counties – Wayne County in Michigan and Maricopa County in Arizona – that used NBA arenas as polling stations or ballot boxes, the difference between the votes Biden received this year and the votes won by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton four years ago was enough to switch the respective states to blue.
Paradoxically, while the coronavirus pandemic convinced the NBA to convert the arenas into polling stations, it also eliminated a major logistical problem.
Without the outbreak of COVID-19, the regular season would already have been underway. Instead, the 2019-20 campaign did not end until October after a three-month pandemic break, and the 2020-21 season will not begin until the end of next month.
As a result, the NBA arenas where matches would normally have been played were not used during the election.
Kathy Behrens, NBA President for Social Responsibility and Player Programs, admitted that the unusual scheduling helped, but maintained that the teams would continue to be able to vote.