ATLANTA — State Farm Arena will become the largest voting site ever in Georgia when it opens today along with other precincts for early voting.
Polls are open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday now through August 7 for the runoff elections. State Farm Arena is available only for early voting, and not on Election Day in Fulton County.
During the primary election in June, there were long lines of people waiting outside for hours, making it hard for people to keep their distance. There were also not enough workers on Election Day and issues with training and the new voting system led to chaos.
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Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, Fulton Commission Chair Robb Pittman and Director of Elections Richard Barron showed Channel 2′s Steve Gehlbach around the concourse and the arena floor.
With no NBA season plus concerts and events canceled, the large space was just sitting empty. So the Hawks contacted the county and asked how they could help.
“I picked up the phone and said ‘I have an idea,’” Koonin said. “He [Pittman] said ‘Can I meet you tomorrow?’”
There are 100 ballot marking booths and plenty of space for social distancing. All machines are spaced 10 feet apart and the touch screens will get wiped down after each voter. Masks will also be provided to those who don’t have them.
More than 200 Hawks employees will function as the poll workers, according to Koonin.
To get everyone to the polls, the MARTA station right outside the arena is reopening today for early voting.
This will also serve as a test run for the fall. Officials and the Hawks hope to have 300 machines set up for early voting during the November general and presidential election.
“Of course we’re going to triple the size here in November, so this is a good practice run within the arena to get the flow down,” Barron said.
For the August runoff and in November, the site will use the concourse as well as the arena floor.
Gehlbach talked to Brenda Newsome, who showed up to cast her ballot.
“It was no problem,” Newsome said. “There were a lot of people there to help us. I feel like I should vote early and my vote should count.”
Newsome said voting in June was a different story.
“It was pretty bad. There were a lot of people and because I have a disability,” Newsome said. “I had to wait in line a very long time.”
Everyone who leaves the arena will leave with a special basketball-themed peach voter sticker.
Fulton County Director of Elections Richard Barron said that in addition to the State Farm Arena site, they’re adding more polling sites for the big election in November, along with more staff and in-person training.
Up to 230 polling locations will be open in November.