As the United States approaches one of the most challenging national elections in recent years thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, arenas across the country are being pressed into service as polling places.
The push for arenas as polling spots has a clear rationale: because of their physical setups—large footprints, multiple entrances, plenty of space for social distancing—arenas are a natural spot to ensure the safety of both voters and election workers while also protecting everyone’s right to vote.
In Cleveland, for example, the Cleveland Cavaliers have announced that Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse will serve as a polling location for the 2020 General Election. In addition, Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse will also host the nonpartisan National Voter Registration Day on Tuesday, September 22. Voters residing anywhere in Cuyahoga County will be able to register to vote at the FieldHouse that day, even if their actual voting precinct locations on Election Day are at different locations in the county.
In Atlanta, State Farm Arena has already been pressed into service last month as a polling spot for the Georgia General Primary Runoff Election.
Lebron James’ More Than a Vote initiative, formed to oppose voter suppression and support Black voters, has been key in working with local voting officials and arena managers to open venues as polling places. Similarly, the Election Super Centers Project has been working on the effort to open sports arenas as polling places. So far we’ve seen officials from American Airlines Arena (Miami Heat), Little Caesars Arena (Detroit Pistons), Capital One Arena (Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals), Chase Center (Golden State Warriors), Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Indiana Pacers), Prudential Center (New Jersey Devils), American Airlines Center (Dallas Mavericks), PPG Paints Arena, (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Fiserv Forum (Milwaukee Bucks) express interest in opening their doors as polling places among current NBA and NHL venues, while the Los Angeles Clippers will do the same at The Forum. Among the luminaries joining the Election Super Center Project effort: Clippers coach Doc Rivers, and musicians John Legend and Chuck D. The Election Super Centers Project is also working with universities, colleges, and community colleges to open additional venues.
“Having additional venues available that are large enough to ensure ample social distancing with extensive health and safety protocols in place is important during this unprecedented time,” Rivers said via press statement. “These supplemental venues ensure people can exercise their right to vote. We will continue to work hard off the court to secure as many large arena and venues as possible.”
“No one should have to choose between exercising their most precious democratic right and their personal safety,” Legend said via press statement. “Our regular polling stations and vote-by-mail cannot be replaced, but the most important thing is to ensure we have options that work for everyone. The option to vote in an arena, with the kind of space the CDC advises for safe voting, is an added way to protect Americans and our democracy.”
Photo of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse courtesy of Trepal Photography / Cleveland Cavaliers.