Several cities with NBA arenas could see those facilities turned into in-person voting sites this fall, thanks to a deal reached Friday between players and franchise officials to resume the NBA playoffs this weekend.
The NBA and NBA players’ association announced the agreement — which also includes the establishment of a social justice coalition and an NBA ad campaign promoting civic engagement — after several playoff games were put on hold this week due to team boycotts. The player strike was in protest of a Wisconsin police officer on Sunday shooting and paralyzing a black man who appeared to show no immediate threat.
“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 statement announcing the new deal said.
While some, including White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, dismissed the NBA strike, the benefits this agreement stands to bring voters — including voters of color — are concrete and significant.
One of Kentucky’s most populous counties hosted in-person voting in a sporting arena for its June primary and it proved to an effective approach in the pandemic to keep wait times low while keeping voters and workers spaced out to limit coronavirus transmission.
Furthermore, NBA arenas are often located near public transportation, making them accessible to low-income voters.
Georgia election officials had already announced a plan with the NBA Hawks to use their Atlanta arena for early voting, and since then, a civic engagement group launched by NBA star LeBron James has helped craft deals to use sporting facilities in other parts of the country for voting.
These partnerships between election officials and sporting facilities have also facilitated the use of arena employees as poll workers, helping to solve the poll worker shortage COVID-19 has caused.
Friday’s announcement acknowledged that there might be legal or logistical challenges in some NBA hometowns in transforming those arenas into voting sites.
“If a deadline has passed, team governors will work with local elections officials to find another election-related use for the facility, including but not limited to voter registration and ballot receiving board,” the announcement said.
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