NBA Arenas, Which Played Crucial Role in Boosting Voter Turnout, Could Be Used in Future Elections

The sight of Americans using NBA arenas as voting sites could become commonplace in future, with teams considering using their arenas as polling locations for upcoming elections.

Twenty-three of the league's 30 franchises committed their arenas or practice facilities for voting-related activities for the 2020 presidential election, as the NBA, NBA Players Association and teams worked together with local election officials to convert facilities into voting locations. This gave voters a safe in-person voting option amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Of those, 18 were used as polling sites on Election Day and the Golden State Warriors, Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks have told Newsweek they would consider doing so again in future elections.

"Based on the success of this initial run at all three of our voting drop-off locations, we would certainly entertain the idea of making our venues available during future elections," a Warriors spokesperson said.

The team made Chase Center available as a drop off ballots in San Francisco, while its Basketball Academy in Oakland and G-League arena in Santa Cruz were both used as voting sites.

Kevin Grigg, the Pistons senior VP of public relations, struck a similar tone.

"Sports teams bring people together from all backgrounds and at their best, inspire us and encourage us to unite," he said.

"Our intent is to continue to make our facility available for elections again in the future."

The Pistons' practice facility, the Henry Ford Performance Center, was used as an early ballot drop site for voters in Wayne County, Michigan.

The venue was also used as a receiving board for the Detroit City Clerk to accept completed ballot boxes from Detroit precincts on election night. Approximately 150 Pistons employees serving as election workers to accept completed ballot boxes from precincts around the city.

The Hawks, meanwhile, turned State Farm Arena into a voting precinct in Fulton County, Georgia. The venue opened its doors for early voting on October 12, the earliest of any NBA team.

"With COVID-19, franchise CEO Steve Koonin knew there was an opportunity to provide quick, safe voting at the arena," Garin Narain, the Hawks VP of Public Relations, told Newsweek.

"It [serving as voting site] is definitely something we would consider pending potential scheduling issues."

The Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers were also among the teams committing their arenas to election-related activities. In Chicago, the United Center served as a venue for same-day registration, as well as an in-person voting site and vote-by-mail ballot return location.

In Indianapolis, meanwhile, Bankers Life Fieldhouse served as a polling site on Election Day.

When asked whether they would consider committing their arenas to election activities in the future, both the Bulls and the Pacers declined to comment.

Like the NFL and the MLB, in the lead-up to Election Day, the NBA proactively worked to increase voter turnout, which has long been an issue blighting elections in the U.S.

Several NBA players, meanwhile, supported the More Than A Vote campaign, which was launched by James and former first lady Michelle Obama to address misinformation targeted towards Black voters and ensure Black Americans were registered to vote.

The efforts appear to have paid off.

According to data from the National Election Pool and Edison Research, in California, Michigan, Indiana, Georgia, Florida, Arizona, Ohio, Texas, Colorado and Utah voter turnout increased from four years ago in counties where an NBA arena served either as a voting site, as ballot drop location for early voters or for other election-related activities.

Significantly, all the 14 counties voted in favor of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

In at least two counties—Wayne County in Michigan and Maricopa County in Arizona—which used NBA arenas as voting sites or as ballot drop box sites, the difference between the votes Biden received this year and those Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won four years ago was enough to flip the respective states to blue.

Paradoxically, while the coronavirus pandemic convinced the NBA to turn arenas into voting sites, it also removed a significant logistical issue.

Had it not been for the COVID-19 outbreak, the regular season would have already been underway. Instead, the 2019-20 campaign only ended in October following a three-month hiatus because of the pandemic, and the 2020-21 season won't begin until late next month.

As a result, NBA arenas that would have normally been hosting games were left unused during the election.

Kathy Behrens, the NBA President of Social Responsibility and Player Programs acknowledged the unusual scheduling had helped, but maintained teams remained committed to providing voting facilities.

"Because of the pandemic, they were particularly needed this year and they will continue to work closely with city officials to determine how they can be most helpful in future elections," she told Newsweek.

Georgia, State Farm Arena
Voters cast their ballots inside of State Farm Arena, Georgia's largest early voting location, for the first day of early voting in the general election on October 12 in Atlanta, Georgia. Early voting in Georgia ran from October 12-30. Jessica McGowan/Getty