When Dodger Stadium underwent a redesign under the watchful eye of Janet Marie Smith in 2012, she never thought that nearly a decade later the stadium would be used as a polling center in a presidential election amidst a worldwide pandemic.
“It was natural to look at larger venues,” said Smith, who is the Dodgers’ senior vice president of planning and development. “Thank goodness that those stadiums fall into those categories because there is plenty of space.”
Dodger Stadium, which had food trucks open and mariachi bands playing for voters, has also been used as a COVID-19 testing site and a food distribution center.
Not only was it an unprecedented show of voter support and civic engagement when the Dodgers and other professional sports franchises opened their doors to become official voting centers, but also, experts say, they likely contributed to the record-breaking vote totals that are piling up ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s assumption of office on Jan. 20.
In total, 47 different franchises across the MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLS opened their stadiums, arenas, and fields to voters, according to a tally by Sports Illustrated. Unlike the Dodgers, not all of the franchises included entertainment and food for voters.
But thousands came anyway, boosting turnout.
In 2016, randomized voting trials showed that music and entertainment venues used for balloting increased voter turnout by three to four percentage points, Donald Green, professor of American politics at Columbia University, told Capital News Service. Green founded the experimental research section of the American Political Science Association and served as its first president.
Nearly 300,000 voters cast their ballots at sports venue polling centers this election, according to data compiled by USA Today. And that made a major difference in voter safety in major cities.
The Dodgers were the first team in the MLB to open its stadium as a polling center in conjunction with an initiative by More Than a Vote, a group of Black athletes and artists that includes current and former Los Angeles sports greats such as the Lakers’ LeBron James and former WNBA star and Olympic gold medal-winner Lisa Leslie.
More Than a Vote partnered with other teams from around the major professional sports leagues in an attempt to reduce voter suppression in major cities.
“In counties where Black people are the majority, death rates are 3.5 times higher than the national average. Our voting locations must offer safe, socially distanced voting,” More Than a Vote said in an open letter to the public in August. “If we don’t address this now, no joke, many Black people will be forced to put their health at risk just to cast a ballot.”
For the Dodgers, the partnership was seamless and a major success.
“I think it’s consistent with our goals here in Los Angeles,” Smith said. “We want to feel like we are part of a greater community and that the things that we do are about more than just hosting baseball.”
Smith said that she felt that the voters in the nation’s most populous county enjoyed the novelty of being able to vote inside the stadium in a time when baseball had gone into a “bubble” system to finish the season.
Los Angeles County resident Art Mercado, 47, waited until Nov. 3, technically Election Day even though millions voted early, to vote inside of Dodger Stadium for the “bragging rights,” he told the Los Angeles Times. Among many other reasons voters chose to utilize the Dodger Stadium polling center, one voter said that he hoped that the Dodgers winning the World Series would bring him good luck.
The Golden State Warriors opened three facilities across the San Francisco Bay Area for polling centers.
“With our facilities in Oakland, San Francisco and Santa Cruz all being utilized to support the 2020 election process, this ranks as our most critical three-pointer of the year,” Warriors President and CEO Rick Welts said in a statement. “For our democracy to work, we all need to exercise our right to vote, and activating all three of these locations will help expand that opportunity for many Bay Area residents.”
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla called the San Francisco 49ers decision to make Levi’s Stadium a polling center for the election a “touchdown for democracy.”
The Atlanta Hawks also opened their arena to voters in Fulton County, which turned out heavily in favor of Biden. The largest-ever voting center in Georgia allowed voters to safely cast their ballots both in the presidential and the August primary runoff elections.
Although Smith said that she did not see Dodger Stadium being used in a similar manner in future elections, More Than a Vote pledged to continue its initiative focused on “systemic, targeted voter suppression in our community and will have a specific mission to: educate, energize and protect Black voters.”