There is a critical solution to where America can vote during the pandemic—and beyond.
As we saw this spring in Wisconsin, Georgia, and elsewhere, insecure surroundings, long lines, and dangerous, dreadfully anti-democratic physical conditions at our traditional voting centers have plagued our elections. The situation has been especially horrendous during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with the stripping of local precinct centers. Such travesties threaten—once again—to undermine our 2020 choice.
But there are safe, centrally located, high-profile locations with plenty of parking and conveniences that can make this fall’s voting experience far more secure.
They are the sports arenas that house our basketball and hockey teams, both college and professional. There are limitations. But they provide an obvious alternative to the tiny, cramped, disastrous voting centers we’ve seen in this year’s primaries.
The Atlanta Hawks are leading the way. The team has graciously offered its massive 21,000-seat downtown stadium for the fall 2020 election. It is a brilliant breakthrough idea that should be embraced in every US city, town, and county. Those smaller communities that don’t have professional basketball or hockey teams do have college and high school stadia that can serve the same function.
Everybody knows where these arenas are located. They all have plenty of parking. The outdoor lots can accommodate massive ballot drop boxes and drive-through voting options.
The parking areas can be easily secured, and weapons must be banned from the arenas, eliminating anticipated threats from gun-toting vigilantes aiming to intimidate voters.
For citizens who don’t want to mail their ballots or drop them off in repositories, or who need to come in personally to deal with registration, ballot surrender, and other issues, there will be no more long lines. They can check in at the door and get a number. Then, with masks and social distancing, they can comfortably sit anywhere in the arena. When their number comes up, it can flash on the scoreboard.
In the age of Vote By Mail, most sports arenas should be big enough to accommodate all the precincts in any given county. Most big urban areas have a second or third big arena that could be available for backup if needed.
The internal scoreboards can direct every voter to their proper precinct table. Once the ballots are marked and completed by the voter, there will be no need to move them elsewhere to be tallied, thus making the protection and counting process far more secure. Ballots received by voters in the mail can be returned by mail straight to the arenas, deposited in the drop boxes, or brought in personally for surrender and substitution. All ballots, even in very large metropolitan areas, can therefore be easily secured in a single centralized location.
For citizens who don’t have their own transportation, bus and individual pickup services should be provided. Within the stadia, there should be plenty of easily distanced seating, restroom facilities, and work areas. Though the capacities should accommodate the voting public, there will have to be limitations on how full they can get. In big cities, the use of a second arena might be needed (though that seems unlikely, especially with VBM).
Protected from the weather, voters can come to the arenas without fear of standing for hours in the heat, cold, rain, or snow. The indoor spaces need to be heavily sanitized and ventilated. Masks must be required. Internet services can be provided, with passcodes posted on the scoreboards. Food services can be made available.
Overall, these big public spaces should allow America’s citizenry to fulfill its electoral duties in dignity and grace, as befits a working democracy.
Elizabeth Warren has proposed that November 3—Election Day—be made a national holiday. This would allow the public to avoid missing work should the waits stretch out too long. In fact, the arena/polling stations should also be open the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday before Tuesday’s voting day. With that range of opportunity, we can all celebrate the power of public control over our government in ways that befit a functional democracy.
For too many years, in too many places, the American voting experience has been dangerous, degrading, and anti-democratic. Especially during this pandemic, the process must be transformed from the deadly ordeals we witnessed this spring in Wisconsin, Georgia, and elsewhere into a convenient, communal, functional celebration of our nation’s democratic ideals.
We are indebted for this idea to the Atlanta Hawks, who’ve offered their stadium to serve as a shrine of democracy in a critical swing state marred by a long history of violent racism and electoral manipulation.
This fall, in every American city, town, and county, we should be able to cast our ballots in safety, comfort, and dignity.
We must accept no less. See you in the arenas!
Completion of Harvey Wasserman’s People’s Spiral of US History awaits Trump’s departure at solartopia.org. He co-convenes the weekly Emergency Election Protection Zoom, which you can join by contacting him at solartopia.org. His radio show is at prn.fm and KPFK/Pacifica 90.7 fm, Los Angeles.