The Atlanta Hawks organization is doing more than talking about voting rights and advocacy. The Hawks and Fulton County announced Monday that State Farm Arena, where the Hawks have played for two decades, will become a voting precinct.
The additional location will help ease long lines Georgia experienced during the primaries, assist voters with social distancing amid the COVID-19 crisis and possibly result in more arenas becoming polling places.
Hawks’ to host polling location
State Farm Arena, which houses 16,600 fans for basketball games, will be the largest polling place in Georgia history, the county announced. The arena is owned by the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority, which leases it to the Hawks.
It will be in use for the Georgia general primary runoff election from July 20 through Aug. 11 and the November general election, which also has early voting.
Richard Barron, Fulton County elections director, told WABE there will be 25 check-in sites and a couple hundred voting machines.
The partnership will allow for “tens of thousands of voters,” per the Hawks, to cast ballots while social distancing as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said part-time and full-time workers at State Farm Arena will help out during voting and the team will have IT partners around. The group hopes it will be the “most efficient” voting precinct as well as the largest.
Voting turnout, rights a focus for Hawks
After a discussion on race in early June, the Hawks chose voter turnout and voting rights as a cause to focus on, Sarah K. Spencer reported for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Koonin came up with the idea for the voting precinct and both owner Tony Ressler and head coach Lloyd Pierce jumped on board in “about a nanosecond.”
Hawks owner Tony Ressler says it was CEO Steve Koonin's idea who first had the idea to turn State Farm Arena into a voting precinct.— Sarah K. Spencer (@sarah_k_spence) June 29, 2020
"It took me and Lloyd about a nanosecond to jump on."
Koonin: "We are more than a basketball team."
Piece spoke about turning the arena into a voting center two weeks ago. He’s hoping other coaches and organizations also consider doing the same while teams are at Disney World to conclude their 2019-20 seasons.
Lloyd Pierce says all 30 NBA coaches have a meeting tonight, and he's going to take the opportunity to talk them through how the Hawks partnered w/ Fulton County to turn State Farm Arena into a voting precinct.— Sarah K. Spencer (@sarah_k_spence) June 29, 2020
Says he hopes other teams/arenas can follow suit.
Players will also be involved in the effort, per Spencer.
Lloyd Pierce says Hawks players will also be involved, using social media to encourage voter turnout.— Sarah K. Spencer (@sarah_k_spence) June 29, 2020
CEO Steve Koonin says downtown Atlanta billboards the Hawks run will in July start running reminders to vote, and will get word out that State Farm Arena is now a precinct.
Georgia experienced voting issues in primary
Georgia has a long history of disenfranchising voters and was one of the states to experience myriad problems during the primary in June. LeBron James criticized it on Twitter, asking if “how we vote is also structurally racist?” The following day he announced the launch of a voting rights group that includes celebrities and fellow basketball stars. “More Than A Vote” released its first ad a week ago.
One of the largest problems in past years has been states, mainly in the south, shuttering polling places. Travel and time constraints are pressing issues when it comes to voting and can deter Americans from doing so. Opening up an entire arena, especially during times of social distancing, will make a dent into that issue. There’s also the allure of saying you voted where your favorite team or player competes.
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