It’s a familiar sight in Boston in mid-October: a line of people, many dressed in Red Sox gear, stretched down Jersey Street, waiting to get through Gate A into historic Fenway Park. But they weren’t going to see a baseball game this year. You would vote.
The Red Sox were one of dozen sports teams that offered their home stadiums as polling stations for this election. With the coronavirus pandemic, polling stations are forcing themselves to relocate from cramped spaces like Fire stations or high risk places like Nursing homesSports facilities have proven to be excellent alternatives (though not without controversy in some cases). Because of their huge size, they can handle tons of voters at the same time and still leave room for social distancing. Some of them are even located outdoors, lowering the risk of transmitting the virus.
Plus, they’re just a cool place to vote – especially for fans who couldn’t see their favorite teams in person this year. The demand to vote in Fenway was sky high; On the first morning of the early voting, a Red Sox employee said the line wrapped almost the entire park, from Jersey Street to Van Ness Street to Ipswich Street to Lansdowne Street, and even later in the day, voters waited 45 Minutes To Receive Still, a family of Red Sox subscribers told me how lucky they were to visit Fenway this year. And voter Kate McElhiney said she went out of her way to vote in Fenway, which is across town from her Dorchester home. McElhiney told me she wanted to vote at Fenway, partly because of the novelty, but partly because she saw the cavernous, well-ventilated hall as the safest place to choose.
While the pandemic may have sparked demand for polling stations in the stadium, it was the racial justice demonstrations over the summer that inspired teams to supply them. As Protests against Black Lives Matter In early June, the Atlanta Hawks swept the country and became the first team in a league to use their home court, State Farm Arena, as a polling station. “Unfortunately – but luckily for the early voting – our facility wasn’t hosting any games,” Amy Phuong, vice president of government relations at Hawks, told FiveThirtyEight. “In order to [CEO Steve Koonin] had an idea: if everyone out there is casting their votes, what better way to cast our voice? “
Bekah Salwasser, executive director of the Red Sox Foundation, agreed with this sentiment. “We know that people across the country have wanted change, for many months through protests or demonstrations,” she said. “And we believe that one of the best ways to make definitive change as an individual and as a civilian in this country is through voting.”
Player activism played a huge role, especially in basketball. In late August, NBA players (led by Milwaukee Bucks) went on a wildcat strike in protest against the police shooting of Jacob Blake, involving players from the WNBA, MLB, MLS and NHL. The NBA strike ended two days later after, among other things League agreed to convert his arenas into polling stations wherever possible, whatever several More Investments His approved as Polling Websites.
In total, at least 39 sports facilities of the major league will be used as polling stations this autumn – 31 of which are up for election today, on election day. The list includes 11 NHL arenas, 10 NFL stadiums, five MLB stadiums, and five WNBA arenas.
|Meeting place||team||Early voting||election day|
|Amalie Arena||Tampa Bay Lightning||✓|
|American Airlines Center||Dallas Mavericks, stars||✓||✓|
|Amway Center||Orlando Magic||✓|
|Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum||Phoenix Mercury||✓||✓|
|Arrowhead Stadium||Kansas City Chiefs||✓|
|AT&T Center||San Antonio Spurs||✓||✓|
|Ball arena||Denver Nuggets, Colorado avalanche||✓||✓|
|Bank of America Stadium||Carolina Panthers||✓|
|Bankers Life Fieldhouse||Indiana Pacers, fever||✓|
|Barclays Center||Brooklyn Nets, New York Liberty||✓||✓|
|Capital One Arena||Washington Wizards, capitals||✓||✓|
|CenturyLink Field||Seattle Seahawks||✓||✓|
|Dodger Stadium||Los Angeles Dodgers||✓||✓|
|Entertainment and sports arena||Washington Mystics||✓||✓|
|FedEx Field||Washington soccer team||✓|
|Fenway Park||Boston Red Sox||✓|
|Gila River Arena||Arizona Coyotes||✓||✓|
|Golden 1 center||Sacramento Kings||✓||✓|
|Honda Center||Anaheim ducks||✓||✓|
|Lambeau Field||Green Bay Packers||✓|
|Levi’s Stadium||San Francisco 49ers||✓||✓|
|Lucas Oil Stadium||Indianapolis Colts||✓|
|Madison Square Garden||New York Knicks, Rangers||✓||✓|
|Nationals Park||Washington Nationals||✓||✓|
|NRG stadium||Houston Texans||✓||✓|
|Oakland Coliseum||Oakland Athletics||✓||✓|
|Oriole Park at Camden Yards||Baltimore Orioles||✓||✓|
|PPG Paints Arena||Pittsburgh penguins||✓|
|Supervisory center||New Jersey Devils||✓|
|Raymond James Stadium||Tampa Bay privateers||✓|
|Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse||Cleveland Cavaliers||✓|
|Smoothie King Center||New Orleans Pelicans||✓|
|SoFi stadium||Los Angeles Rams, chargers||✓||✓|
|Spectrum center||Charlotte Hornets||✓|
|Staples Center||Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, Kings, Sparks||✓||✓|
|State Farm Arena||Atlanta Hawks||✓|
|Toyota Center||Houston Rockets||✓||✓|
|United Center||Chicago Bulls, Blackhawks||✓|
|Vivint Smart Home Arena||Utah Jazz||✓|
But the NBA is leading the way: 17 of its 28 domestic arenas have been converted into polling stations. While this is not in line with the goal of full participation set after the strike, some other areas encourage civic participation or otherwise assist election officials. The Oklahoma City Thunder hosted voter registration rides within the Chesapeake Energy Arena;; Election workers were trained at the Detroit Pistons. Small Caesars Arena;; Ballot papers are counted in the Memphis Grizzlies. FedExForum. And while the Chase Center in San Francisco isn’t a polling station other Golden State Warriors bodies and there is a voting desk outside the Chase Center.
More venues would be attending if they could. Ultimately, it is not up to the teams to decide whether their arenas become polling stations – it is up to the electoral authorities. (According to Salwasser and Phuong, both Fenway and State Farm Arena had to meet certain criteria before they were approved as polling stations. For example, the Boston Electoral Department conducted an on-site visit to Fenway.) And sometimes a local government declined a team’s offer – much to the chagrin of the team. For example, the Miami Heat were not pleased when Miami-Dade County declined their invitation to make the AmericanAirlines Arena an early voting venue and instead opted for a smaller room at a nearby museum. The Miami Herald later revealed County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, the Republican candidate for Florida’s 26th Congressional District, intervened to prevent election officials from voting in the arena.
And in Milwaukee, the Bucks ‘Fiserv Forum and Brewers’ Miller Park had already been announced as early voting venues by the Milwaukee Electoral Commission abruptly dropped these plansciting concerns that voices there could be legally challenged. Alex Lasry, senior vice president of Bucks, told FiveThirtyEight that the team was disappointed with the decision and looked forward to providing an accessible place for the people of Milwaukee, especially those of color, to vote. “But we also know it was the right decision,” said Lasry. “We want there to be no doubt that every vote is legitimate and that nobody’s votes are taken away.” And the team was still able to meddle by hosting voter registration drives.
In the stadiums that serve as polling stations, voters are spoiled with an incomparable voting experience. In the State Farm Arena, the Hawks set up three separate voting areas, including one that voters cast through the huge “Atlanta” letters, were checked in in the “Hawk Walk” concession area and voted on machines installed in the 100-story hall and arena. In total, more than 300 voting machines were housed in the arena. Phuong said this is more than any other place for early voting in Georgia and, she believes, across the country. She added that nearly 300 Hawks employees helped out by filling roles as diverse as greeting voters and polling officers alongside county employees.
At Fenway, nearly 100 Red Sox front office and day-of-game workers volunteered to handle the crowd while Boston city pollers handled the actual check-in and check-out processes. First of all, the voters confirmed with an election officer directly in front of Gate A that they were registered in Boston. Then it was a short walk up a ramp to the third base hall below bleachers 29-31, where a second check-in desk was ready to give voters one of 37 different ballots, depending on where in Boston they lived and what races they could participate in.
Voters voted at the stands in front of a Ted Williams mural and a Samuel Adams bar. Then, after they dumped it in a ballot box in front of a concession booth that usually sells soft ice cream, the cherry on top: sticker that read “I voted in Fenway Park” and the chance to climb into the constituency and grandstand see the field.
Santul Nerkar contributed to the research.