Before the next NBA game is played at the Atlanta Hawks’ State Farm Arena, the venue will serve a higher civic purpose.
At the Hawks’ request, the arena will serve as a polling place for elections beginning next month.
The plan was approved Monday by the Fulton County Registration and Elections Board. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, State Farm Arena will be the largest-ever voting precinct in Georgia history.
“We believe this is good for Atlanta, good for Fulton County, good for Georgia, really, good for the country,” majority owner Tony Ressler said, according to the newspaper. “Having everyone in our organization participating is something we are all so very proud of.”
Georgia’s June 9 primary election was plagued by huge waits at the polls in the Atlanta area.
The result sparked an idea for the Hawks, who already were looking for ways to make a positive social change in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death on May 25.
In talks between Ressler, head coach Lloyd Pierce and team CEO Steve Koonin, Pierce said, according to ESPN, “We were casually brainstorming since our whole world turned about what we can do internally as an organization. We were trying to figure out how we can take care of home first, and (Koonin) pitched the idea. …
“When we saw what we saw on June 9, it was extremely clear that we have a real issue in the state of Georgia and especially here in Atlanta, and we felt we had an opportunity to do something special. It was encouraging that we were able to think outside of the box and speak this idea into existence.”
The plan was presented to Fulton County commission chairman Robb Pitts on June 18.
Pitts said, according to ESPN, “It took me about a nanosecond to understand what a big deal that would be for us here in Fulton County running this upcoming election, given the challenges that we had.”
The arena will first be utilized July 20 as part of early voting for the state’s Aug. 11 general primary runoff, according to the Journal-Constitution.
Pierce plans to ask other NBA teams to follow the Hawks’ lead.
“This is great information and great news to deliver,” Pierce told the newspaper. “And we’re competitors. This will be a challenge to 29 other coaches in our league if they can get this done. … I’m encouraged by us being the model for voting, us being the leader and making this a reality and then us leading the charge and getting the rest of our country to encourage voting.”
State Farm Arena’s 680,000-square-foot field size will help accommodate voting amid the coronavirus pandemic, with voting machines separated by six feet.
“We think we have the best-run arena in the country,” Ressler said, according to the Journal-Constitution. “We want to be part of running the most efficient, best polling location in the country. We’re going to do whatever we can to help our friends in Fulton County make this special. …
“Our employees are all in. Our leadership is all in. So this is something we do take as a challenge, and hopefully we can help, and it is very important to us, because we believe it’s very important to the community that we reside in and that our fans live in.”
The arena can serve as a polling place through the Nov. 3 general election as the Hawks won’t play a home game in Atlanta until the 2020-21 season gets off to a late start, possibly on Dec. 1.