On July 20, voters will be able to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social distancing guidelines as they cast early ballots for the Georgia general primary runoff election, which takes place on Aug. 11. Voters also will be able to access the 21-year-old venue in October for early voting in November’s general election.
Hundreds of Hawks employees and arena staff will be trained as election workers at the 700,000-square-foot venue, which hosts more than 16,000 spectators for basketball games and 21,000 for concerts. The team says parking will be free for voters and more than 1,500 spaces will be made available. The recently renovated arena has been home to the Hawks since 1999.
“We aim to be a community asset, and in order to fulfill that goal, we need to be more than just a basketball team,” Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said in a conference call with team and county officials. “We’ll utilize our arena for all aspects of voting.”
Hawks Coach Lloyd Pierce said he would challenge the other 29 NBA head coaches in a call slated for Monday evening to become more active in encouraging their communities to vote.
“I’m encouraged by us being the model for voting, us being the leader in making this a reality and then us leading the charge in getting the rest of our country to encourage voting,” Pierce said.
State Farm Arena is located in Fulton County, which was hit particularly hard with disorganization surrounding the state’s primary election on June 10, even after warnings of potential issues months in advance. Voters waited in long lines for hours due to a combination of reduced polling locations because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, a lack of proper training on new voting machines and an inability to process a large number of mail-in ballot requests.
The issues that took place that night led to finger pointing between state and local officials, as well as accusations of racially motivated voter suppression. Judges across 20 Georgia counties extended voting hours at multiple locations the night of the primaries.
Tony Ressler, owner of the Hawks and State Farm Arena, said in a statement that it’s imperative his franchise plays a key role in its community.
“When our ownership group purchased the Hawks & State Farm Arena five years ago, we were clear that we felt it was our responsibility to make sure the organization was an important civic asset to the city of Atlanta,” Ressler said. “Utilizing State Farm Arena and our incredible staff to make the arena an accessible and vital polling site in an important election year is a fulfillment on that promise.”
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