Max Simpson July 21, 2020

This November, election officials nationwide will be tasked with making in-person voting safe and accessible amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic. The push to convert stadiums, arenas, and other large venues into makeshift voting locations has gained lots of ground in the recent weeks. On June 29th, the Atlanta Hawks announced that home court State Farm Arena will be a voting precinct for the 2020 election cycle. Soon after, the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks unveiled plans offering their facilities as well. 

Why the push? Under pre-pandemic circumstances, polling stations generally include local schools, churches, and fire stations spread out across a county. However, these small spaces make social distancing very difficult, and long lines nearly inevitable. Furthermore, these stations rely heavily upon senior volunteers to function, many of whom will not volunteer for safety concerns. With an expected shortage of both staff and locations, many voting rights advocates believe that stadiums are the most efficient substitute, given the circumstances.

What will this look like? No one is completely sure, but most large cities will have to adhere to CDC guidelines. The Hawks have announced that their facility will require social distancing and masks, while administering hand sanitizer. Others may even require temperature checks. Much of how Louisville, Kentucky facilitated their recent primary will likely be replicated: separate polling queue lines, multiple precinct machines, and free public transit. Other procedures may vary depending on the state or municipality. 

Will this trend continue? Of all US professional sports, the NBA has certainly been the most outspoken on issues of both racial justice, and now civic participation. Superstar LeBron James recently created “More Than A Vote,” an organization devoted solely to encouraging Black voter registration and turnout. Despite the enthusiasm, there are still many hurdles for teams eager to volunteer their facilities. Coordination between public administrators and team owners is often difficult and tiresome. Even when ready, spreading awareness and proper communication are key to avoiding voter confusion. 

This election cycle has already seen a record number of absentee ballot requests, suggesting that many will be casting their ballot from the comfort of their home. The debate over a universal “vote-by-mail” system also continues to be contested in Washington. In the midst of unprecedented circumstances, creative solutions will be required to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to vote. And as of right now, using professional sporting venues as polling booths has gained a legitimate foothold.

About the Author

Max Simpson is a Political Science Major enrolled in the University of Georgia Honors College. He is currently pursuing his Master of Public Administration and Policy and will graduate in 2022. Max has previously conducted research in Social Security Disability Appeals and worked abroad for an Israeli nonprofit. His interests are focused on state and federal government.