NBA Teams Utilize Vacant Arenas For Voting

The Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland Ohio, has opened their doors for voters. Photo by Erik Drost

By Arthur Cribbs, Howard University News Service

Since the middle of March, the sports world in the United States has seen drastic changes with limited access for fans and a loss of work for stadium and arena workers. The NBA moved its play to a bubble location in Orlando, turning their once-filled arenas into vacant buildings.

Utilizing these buildings, several NBA franchises have shifted to allow these arenas to serve as voter registration sites and polling booths. 

In a joint statement by the league and the players association, Commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts said, “In every city where the league franchise owns and controls the arena property, team governors will continue to work with local elections officials to convert the facility into a voting location for the 2020 general election to allow for a safe in-person voting option for communities vulnerable to COVID.”

In the NBA, while some arenas are privately owned, others are publicly funded and need approval from local officials to be used as polling sites. In San Antonio, the publicly-owned AT&T Center will be used as a polling site. In Miami, the city denied the use of the AmericanAirlines Arena to be used as a polling location.

The Miami Heat released a statement expressing anger with the decision by local authorities not to use their arena as a voting location.

“To say we are disappointed is a huge understatement. The Arena is clearly a better site, with more visibility, more space, and more parking. But to the extent that forces involved in making this decision think this will quiet our voice on the critical importance of voting, they should know that we will not be deterred,” the statement said.

Despite the rejection of the Miami arena, a majority of NBA facilities will be used for either registration, early voting or mail-in ballot drop off or Election Day voting. Locations including the Capital One Center in Washington, D.C., the Staples Center in Los Angeles and State Farm Arena in Atlanta, are among the over 20 NBA facilities throughout the country used in the voting process in this year’s election.

A majority of these arenas will operate within a week of Election Day, but already, the facility in Atlanta, as well as Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland Ohio, have opened their doors for voters.

Mary Carole Cooney, the chairperson of the Fulton County Board of Registration & Elections, said of the Atlanta facility, “State Farm Arena is an ideal solution to help us serve thousands of voters while maintaining social distancing requirements.”

The State Farm Arena, which will be open again for the general election, operated from July 20 to August 11 for the Georgia General Primary Runoff Election. While overall turnout was low in Georgia’s primary runoff in July and August, State Farm Arena is equipped to handle over 800,000 registered voters in the general election.

In Cleveland and throughout Northeast Ohio, early voting turnouts in some regions have surpassed early voting numbers from 2016. In Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, 1,700 early voters showed up on the first day of early voting. In Lorain County, their nearly 1,200 early voters surpassed 800 early voters in 2016.

While it is uncertain whether the use of sports arenas is contributing to increases in voter interest, a Gallup poll from September suggests that attention to the 74 percent of American adults are giving the election “quite a lot” of thought, which is a three percent increase from August and a 15 percent increase from April.

According to The Atlantic, 4.7 million Americans have already voted early and turnout in Wisconsin and Virginia have exceeded 15% of the total votes cast in 2016.

Outside of the NBA, franchises in the other major North American sports leagues have offered their facilities for voting as well. Lebron James’ voting rights group, More Than a Vote, partnered with the Los Angeles Dodgers to transform Dodger Stadium into a polling location. FedEx Field, which is home to the Washington Football Team and Indianapolis Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium are among the dozen NFL stadiums to open their doors for voting.