In a 2020 Presidential election decided by uncomfortably slim margins in swings states, remember the number 40,000. That’s the approximate number of people who voted early at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.
The home of the Hawks was one of many pro sports facilities used in this year’s general election.
Late last week, President Elect Joe Biden became the first Democratic Presidential nominee to win the southern state since 1992. A recount is wrapping up, but when all is said and done, Biden is expected to win Georgia by around 14,000 votes.
It’s easy to consider the liberal voting tendencies of Atlantans, do simple math and think, did an NBA arena really turn the state blue?
“Ha! No,” said voting rights organizer and executive director of the New Georgia Project, Nse Ufot.
And she’s right.
“Voting at the stadium helped to make voting safer and more convenient for Atlantans,” she told Deadspin, “but I consider it a key player on the American democracy all-star team.”
Other players on that team include Stacy Abrams. The 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate who lost by a razor-thin margin, spent years building a network of voting rights activists, organizers, and groups like the New Georgia Project and Fair Fight to expand the electorate in a state that has seen blatant and repeated examples of voter suppression.
And Ufot won’t say it, but she’s also on the all-star team. In this election cycle, she and the New Georgia Project helped register 500,000 new voters in the state. And yes, those thousands of volunteers and organizers are also on the all-star team.
“The turnout numbers we saw can be attributed to the hard work put in place by volunteers, organizers and efforts to educate Georgians on their right to vote,” she said. “This year alone, the New Georgia Project’s 4,300 volunteers made 2.2 million phone calls, knocked on 371,000 doors and had over 98,000 conversations with voters.”
And 3.9 million of those 5 million Georgians voted before election day, a number that shattered the state’s early voting record. But of those 3.9 million, only a handful of voters, 40,000, voted at State Farm Arena. Still, the state’s largest early voting precinct and only NBA stadium helped relieve some, not all, of the pressure in Fulton County.
“We still saw ridiculously long lines at early voting locations across the county,” Ufot said. “But every single voter we spoke to about voting at State Farm said that the experience was smooth [and] efficient. The staff were friendly and they were in and out in what felt like a reasonable time.”
There were a few technical problems that arose in the first few days of Atlanta’s stadium voting. But those issues were resolved rather quickly.
“After years of battling voter suppression and inefficient election management, having it run so smoothly felt like a gift!” Ufot said.
But the work of mobilizing voters in Georgia is not over. There will be two runoffs on January 5 that will determine the balance of power in the United States Senate.
By then, the NBA season will be in full swing and a widely available vaccine could still be months away. If that’s the case, a safe, accessible, and in-person voting location will be needed.
So, will State Farm Arena be used again as a voting site? We don’t know yet. Last week, a source within State Farm Arena told Deadspin that the decision to offer stadium voting again would have to be made by Fulton County. At the time we spoke, no request had been made.
But should the stadium be used in the runoffs and in the years to come? “Absolutely,” Ufot says.
“There is great value in creating a safe and efficient environment for all voters. The stadium is a huge part of Atlanta’s culture, and we would love to see it continue to help Georgians’ voice their hopes and dreams for their tomorrow.”