Illustration of hands on basketball and "vote" on the ball
Illustration by Umi Caldwell

Stadiums operate as polling places in US

Due to concerns surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many potential voters are wary of being in the typical, compact environment at most polling places on Election Day. At the same time, voters are equally, if not somewhat more, concerned about entrusting their ballot to the United States Postal Service (USPS). 

In September, reports surfaced that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major donor to President Donald Trump, had enacted a plan to remove many mailboxes and mail sorting machines in order to cut costs. Though DeJoy has since claimed to have rolled back these measures, many are still skeptical and have condemned DeJoy’s efforts as bona fide voter suppression. 

To combat these problems of crowded indoor spaces and a possible slow-down of mail delivery, large outdoor polling places are in high demand. 

Alison Kropff of Florida’s WTSP News reported on Sept. 4 that health experts are pleading with election officials across the country to consider converting large venues into polling places for Nov. 3.

“We recommend that polling locations be moved to large, well-ventilated areas that can accommodate the necessary social distancing measures and the distance that is going to be needed between the polling booths,” Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, vice-chair of the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s Global Health Committee, said.  

So far, over 40 professional sports teams across the country have committed to opening at least some part of their stadium or arena to voters on election day. 

Though this effort includes teams from most of the major professional sports organizations, most of the locations belong to National Basketball Association (NBA) teams. 

After the brief league-wide strike in August following the shooting of Jacob Blake, NBA players only agreed to resume postseason play if certain social justice measures were put in place league-wide. One of the most important measures was the commitment made by the organization to convert NBA arenas into polling sites for the 2020 election. 

“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,” the NBA said in an Aug. 28 statement. 

This pledge means that 20 of the 29 arenas that host NBA teams will be open as polling places in November, amounting to roughly half of the total number of donated arenas. 

Notably, the Moda Center, home of the Portland Trail Blazers and owned by the estate of the late Paul Allen, is one of the nine arenas that will not be converted into a polling place on election day. 

“In Oregon, where mail-in voting makes casting a ballot easy and more inclusive, the need to transform the Moda Center into a voting facility was unnecessary,” The Oregonian reported on Sept. 16. 

However, CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks and Sounders and another holding of Allen’s company Vulcan Inc., will be open as a polling place. 

This is not to say that the Blazers have been inactive during this election season. In September, they launched a new section of their website called trailblazers.com/vote, which allows visitors to check their voter registration, sign up for election reminders and, most importantly, fill out the 2020 census. 

The Trail Blazers also hosted an event at the Moda Center on Oct. 9 called Rip City Vote Pickup, a drive-by event during which thousands of people picked up voting kits that included stickers, buttons and educational material. 

The Trail Blazers are still working with Multnomah County to see if there is any way the Moda Center can be useful in the days leading up to Nov. 3. At the very least, the exterior of the building has been lit up in red, white and blue to remind voters of important deadlines such as the census (Sep. 30) and the last day for voter registration (Oct. 13). The center will be lit up on election day (Nov. 3) as well.

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