Voting has already started in some states for the presidential election, and many analysts expect record turnout this year. A lot of people go vote by post for the first time in light of the ongoing pandemic, but cities and states are still bracing for an increase in in-person voting on early polling days and November 3.

Given the social distancing needs in the context of the pandemic, many communities are adopting a new type of polling station – the voting “super-center”. The campaign to turn arenas and stadiums into polling stations began months ago, with the help of the Super electoral centers project, but has gained momentum since NBA players asked the league to get on board with effort.

“Professional sports teams and colleges, when they get involved, basically donate these facilities,” said David Becker, executive director of the nonprofit. Center for Electoral Innovation and Research. “And that could mean offering some of their staff and their staff to help.”

This could include staff to lead crowds, keep bathrooms well stocked, and do general maintenance to allow poll workers to focus on voters.

“There are real advantages in that these stadiums and arenas tend to be on public transport routes,” Becker said. “They are very tall; they can adapt to social distancing. They have very good wattage and many outlets that machines can be plugged into.

The Capital One Arena in Washington, DC, is one such site. It sits right on a hub of the DC subway system and is empty of fans during the pandemic. Monumental sports and entertainment, who owns the arena and the WNBA Washington Mystics, NBA Wizards and NHL Capitals, works with the DC Elections Council to transform a hall that spans the length of a block into a polling station, about five times the size of some of the city’s largest pre-pandemic polling stations.

Normally, renting the arena could cost up to $ 100,000 per day, but for elections, the company is essentially donating the space.

“At the end of October, beginning of November, we’re packed with two teams and other special events, but we don’t have anything right now,” said David Touhey, President of Monumental Venues. He added that the polling station will use roughly one-sixteenth of the arena’s space. “So the elevator is weak for us,” he said.

It is one of five voting super centers that will open in Washington for election, according to DC Chairman Michael Bennett. He said others will include the baseball stadium, college gymnasiums and large convention hotels.

“With the turnout that we think we have, this will all be necessary,” Bennett said.

DC Elections Chairman Michael Bennett stands in front of a display of hockey sticks at Capital One Arena.
DC Elections Chairman Michael Bennett in front of one of the screens voters will encounter at the Capital One Arena polling station. (Kimberly Adams / Market)

Even with the additional sites, the city is encouraging residents to vote by mail, and Bennett has asked the DC government to provide him with an additional 120 people to help process those ballots, one of the many additional costs of running an election. in the event of a pandemic. The city needs to provide cleaning supplies and PPE to election officials, as well as more voter education than usual.

“We’re doing a lot more advertising, we’re focusing a lot more on getting people to know where to go and what to do to make sure voting is as easy and smooth as possible,” Bennett said.

At least 20 NBA teams are planning to turn their facilities into polling stations for the November election.

Correction (September 11, 2020): An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the teams playing in the arena.


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