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Politics Voting 'super centers' promise social distance and efficiency, but prepare for lines

23:05  14 september  2020
23:05  14 september  2020 Source:   abcnews.go.com

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Clean and disinfect them before and after use. Practice social distancing by avoiding large gatherings and maintaining distance (at Establish policies and practices for social distancing . Alter your workspace to help workers and customers maintain social

Even as Americans are expected to vote by mail in record numbers this fall, state and local election officials are scrambling to stand up dozens of in-person voting "super centers" in major U.S. cities across at least 14 states.

a screenshot of a video game: Constituents participate in early voting for an August runoff election at State Farm Arena, home of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks basketball team, in Atlanta, July 24, 2020. © Erik S Lesser/EPA via Shutterstock, FILE Constituents participate in early voting for an August runoff election at State Farm Arena, home of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks basketball team, in Atlanta, July 24, 2020.

Many of the biggest centers will be housed in professional sports arenas, stadiums, convention centers and major hotels capable of hosting tens of thousands of voters safely during a pandemic.

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Social distancing is a wider measure aimed at stopping the kind of mixing of people that allows infections to spread through a population. “There could be other things that differed across these contexts such as particular super -spreading event, different social networks,” says Dowd.

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Use of the facilities represents an unprecedented expansion of a vote-center model that allows local residents from any precinct to cast a ballot in person at a single location.

"We will be able to accommodate more voters at a quicker pace," said Alice Miller, executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections. "There will be more machines -- and more space."

a man standing in front of a building: Alice Miller, executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections, says voters who plan to cast ballots in person should bring face masks and patience to polling locations in November. © ABC News Alice Miller, executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections, says voters who plan to cast ballots in person should bring face masks and patience to polling locations in November.

The District of Columbia is launching five voting super centers ahead of Election Day, including Capitol One Arena, which is home to the NBA's Washington Wizards, WNBA's Mystics and NHL's Capitals.

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The venues, typically packed with fans for sporting events and live concerts, have largely been empty because of COVID-19.

MORE: Sports venues become vehicle to counter voter suppression amid coronavirus pandemic

"Those arenas, they're often the biggest, they're the most visible and they're common knowledge, if you will, to the voting public," said Amber McReynolds, CEO of the National Vote At Home Institute, a nonpartisan voter advocacy group that is co-sponsoring an effort to open more voting megaplexes nationwide.

"Offering that option in a place that they understand, know that's community orientated, and then also has giant space where you can actually do adequate social distancing is frankly critical at this point," McReynolds said.

The facilities, which have been designed with crowd control in mind, offer built-in efficiency for poll workers, who are in short supply in many cities because of health concerns. Many pro sports organizations have offered up their own staffs and arena workers as volunteers to run the polling locations.

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a close up of a street: Election officials say new voting © ABC News Election officials say new voting "super centers" in dozens of major American cities will allow placement of dozens of ballot machines at ample social distance while creating convenience for citizens.

Last month, the MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL announced a joint campaign to boost in-person voting, in tandem with McReynolds' organization, the Elections Super Centers Project and Silver Linings Group.

Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center in New York City; Ford Field and Little Caesars Arena in Detroit; Dodger Stadium and the Staples Center in Los Angeles; Gila River Arena in Phoenix; Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida; and Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C., are among the participating venues.

MORE: Mail-in voting is hot during pandemic, but are states ready?

The location of the arenas and stadiums in urban areas where public transportation and parking options are abundant is also potentially enticing to reluctant voters who might otherwise stay home, advocates said.

"It's actually good business," said Tony Ressler, owner of the Atlanta Hawks, the first professional team to open its 700,000-square-foot State Farm Arena as a voting super center for an election.

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"Please understand: our fans -- the overwhelming majority of our fan base -- are so excited that we took this on, Democrat or Republican," Ressler told ABC News Live.

Antony Ressler standing in front of a computer screen: Atlanta Hawks owner Tony Ressler made his team the first in the NBA to open its professional sports arena as a polling location during Georgia's 2020 primary. © ABC News Atlanta Hawks owner Tony Ressler made his team the first in the NBA to open its professional sports arena as a polling location during Georgia's 2020 primary.

Hundreds of voters took advantage of the State Farm Arena polling location during Georgia's primary election in June. Officials expect a significant increase in turnout starting next month for the start of early in-person voting.

"We're gonna move to 60 processing stations and 300 voting machines to give you a sense," said Ressler. "So it's going to be a much more substantial effort, much larger, and frankly with many, many more voters. Anyone in Fulton County, any registered voter in Fulton County, will be able to come to our facility to vote."

Local election officials have been stockpiling voting equipment, signage, hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment in preparation of getting the super centers online. The first early in-person ballots of the 2020 election will be cast this week in Minnesota with other states soon to follow.

"Behind every voter we will wipe up," said Miller, who has been overseeing D.C.'s acquisition of palettes of Purell and tens of thousands of Clorox wipes for distribution to voting sites.

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a room filled with furniture and a box on a table: Inside the D.C. Board of Elections warehouse crates of voting equipment are readied for distribution to the city's first-ever voting © ABC News Inside the D.C. Board of Elections warehouse crates of voting equipment are readied for distribution to the city's first-ever voting "super centers."

ABC News Live got an inside look at Capital One Arena as election officials prepared to convert the concourse area -- just steps from center court and center ice -- into an arcade of electronic voting machines adjacent to beer counters and hot dog stands that have gone dark.

Voters will be guided in a one-directional flow, said D.C. Board of Elections chairman Michael Bennett. "Once they voted, they will come further down the corridor and put their ballot in a tabulating machine, get their voter sticker and they can exit," he said.

MORE: LeBron James launching multimillion-dollar effort to recruit poll workers for November

Underpinning the nationwide push toward highly accessible voting super centers has been the engagement of professional athletes from the NBA to the NFL.

"Our players are incredibly motivated to encourage people to use their voice and vote," said Monica Dixon, an executive with Monumental Sports, which owns the Washington Wizards, Mystics and Capitals. "They have been pushing for us as a company and our employees to get engaged."

NBA superstar LeBron James of the LA Lakers has been at the forefront of the effort, launched in part as a response to national protests for racial justice after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody this spring.

a store inside of a building: The concourse inside Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., will be lined with voting machines for the November election. The arena, which is home to the Washington Wizards, Mystics and Capitals, has been largely unused during the pandemic. © ABC News The concourse inside Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., will be lined with voting machines for the November election. The arena, which is home to the Washington Wizards, Mystics and Capitals, has been largely unused during the pandemic.

"When you have the kind of presence and success of a LeBron, I'm sure his voice is a bit more influential than others, but the good news is virtually every player in the NBA, virtually every franchise in the NBA, is trying to have a positive impact," said Ressler.

Fact check: Echoing Trump, Barr misleads on voter fraud to attack expanded vote-by-mail

  Fact check: Echoing Trump, Barr misleads on voter fraud to attack expanded vote-by-mail The attorney general's remarks have worried civil rights advocates who fear the Justice Department will selectively enforce voting laws.Barr’s remarks — ranging from the debunked assertion that mail voting fraud is widespread to warning without evidence that foreign countries could possibly counterfeit ballots — are largely baseless, according to election experts and researchers interviewed by NBC News, and echo falsehoods pushed by President Donald Trump. The president has for months denigrated the increased use of mail voting during the coronavirus pandemic despite having voted by mail himself as recently as August.

Players across the NFL, NHL and MLB have also lent their voices to the campaign for voter engagement and polling place accessibility.

"We know that not everybody is going to vote at home. We know that some people need to register to vote on Election Day and they haven't gotten their ballot yet. So you have to have a really good in-person voting structure to make that work effectively," said McReynolds.

MORE: Fight to combat election misinformation blurs partisan lines amid Trump's attack on mail-in voting

The coronavirus pandemic may have given rise to a promising new way to vote in person, but officials caution voters to keep their expectations in check.

"There are going to be lines. I'm not going to hide the fact that you may have lines. There's gonna be lines," said MIller

"They may move slow," she added, "but you know what? When people go get those Air Jordan tennis shoes, guess what? They wait in line."

ABC News' Kendall Karson contributed to this report.


Video: Senate aims for Thursday vote on scaled-down coronavirus aid bill (Reuters)

Senate aims for Thursday vote on scaled-down coronavirus aid bill
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