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Early Voting Preparations Bring Buzz of Activity Back To State Farm Arena

The Atlanta Hawks and Fulton County have transformed State Farm Arena into an early voting center for August and November.
The Atlanta Hawks and Fulton County have transformed State Farm Arena into an early voting center for August and November.
Credit Emil Moffatt/WABE

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there haven’t been many reasons to go to State Farm Arena lately.

But that changes on Monday, as early voting begins across Georgia for the August 11 runoff elections.

“Welcome to the largest polling place in the history of Georgia,” exclaimed Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin.

The home of the Hawks has been transformed. There are 100 machines set up for early voting for the runoff election. That expands to 300 voting machines in the lead up to November’s general election.

Fulton County residents will be able to take advantage of this new kind of voting experience, which aims to reduce the long lines that plagued the primary elections in June.

Koonin says they wanted to put their building to good use.

“How do we effect change? And voting is the way that everyone can have a voice and effect change,” said Koonin. “And because of the unusual nature of the NBA schedule for this year, our building is available. So Chairman Pitts and I have known each other for a long, long time and I picked up the phone and said ‘I have an idea.’ And he said ‘can I meet you tomorrow?’”

Koonin says since the Hawks announced the plan to host a polling place, the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks have signed on to do something similar in their communities. But not only are the Hawks providing the facility, they’re also loaning the people, says Fulton County Elections Director Richard Barron.

“From what I understand, there’s going to be 197 Hawks staff supporting early voting for this building,” said Barron. “And that’s a major commitment by the Hawks.”

That should help alleviate a shortage of poll workers felt by many counties in June.

The Hawks will also offer free parking, and MARTA says it will reopen the train station that empties just feet from the arena.

“It Just Grabs You”

The polling place set up at State Farm Arena has a different look and feel to it.

The large television screens that normally show game highlights, now display voting instructions. The scoreboard above the basketball court reads, “Thank You For Voting at State Farm Arena.”

“When you walk in here and you see the digital signs, it just grabs you,” said Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts.

“I think it’s also going to be exciting for a group of people we’ve been trying to get interested in politics and that’s our young people,” said Pitts. “With the players involved, with LeBron James and what he’s doing nationally and with Trae Young and other members of the Hawks here, I think that young people are going to come here for the experience of saying ‘Look, where did you vote?’ ‘Hey man, I voted at State Farm Arena.’ It’s going to be a big deal.”

Pitts calls the partnership with the Hawks the perfect scenario. And he hopes that the problems so many Fulton County voters faced in June will be a thing of the past.