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NBA, WNBA ramp up efforts to get out the vote

The season may be over, but work continues as teams do their part to expand voting access

The larger mission of social justice was always at the forefront in the 2019-20 restart.

When the NBA resumed the 2019-20 season in Orlando in July, there was much more on the line than completing the season and crowning a champion after a four-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The resumption of the season also centered around social justice, with players, coaches, referees, teams and league officials using their collective voice and platform to effect change in local communities and the nation as a whole.

The 2019-20 season concluded on Oct. 11 when the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Miami Heat to win their 17th NBA championship. But after the confetti was swept away, the champagne dried and the bubble officially burst with teams, staff and media leaving the Disney World campus, the larger mission surrounding social justice did not cease.

The season may be over, but the work continues.

With the 2020 General Election less than two weeks away, the NBA family is committed to taking leaguewide action in support of non-partisan efforts to expand voting access and encourage civic engagement.

A key component of that commitment is the NBA, WNBA and G League partnership with the Civic Alliance, a nonpartisan coalition of more than 750 businesses focused on shifting the culture on voting and encouraging civic participation. As a collective, Civic Alliance members aim to strengthen our democracy by supporting safe, healthy and trusted elections, and by inspiring employees and customers to participate in civic life.

By joining Civic Alliance, NBA, WNBA and G League employees will have access to a range of non-partisan civic engagement volunteer opportunities, voter education materials, interactive workshops, and more. And for the first time ever, the NBA has made Election Day on Nov. 3 a day of action and employee engagement, with U.S. employees able to take the day off to vote, volunteer as poll workers, and engage in other activities.

In addition to helping their employees become more engaged in the democratic process, the NBA family is also using its platform and its facilities to help cities across the country vote safely and efficiently through early voting and Election Day voting in NBA, WNBA and G League arenas.

As of Oct. 20, there are 22 NBA and WNBA arenas and facilities and 6 G League facilities being used to support election-related activities, including voting, poll worker trainings, registration events, ballot drop boxes and more.

The G League’s Greensboro Swarm – affiliate of the Charlotte Hornets – opened The Fieldhouse at The Greensboro Coliseum Complex for early voting beginning on Oct. 15 in North Carolina.

In the nation’s capital, Mystics guard Natasha Cloud used her voice to advocate for the Mystics’ home arena – the Entertainment and Sports Complex – to be used as a voting supercenter in the District in order to combat long lines for voters during the pandemic.

“How do we get #ESA to be a central location for wards 7 & 8? Voter suppression and long lines within this community could be the difference,” Cloud tweeted on Sept. 23. “@TheEventsDC what’s up? How can we make this happen? When we moved into SE we promised this community we would be [a part] of a solution. [Let’s] not just talk about it….let’s be about it,” she continued.

Cloud’s efforts paid off as the Mystics home arena has been added to the list of NBA/WNBA and G League venues that will make it easier and more convenient for people to vote in 2020 – and lay the groundwork for future elections. And to help ensure voters feel safe and confident while voting in person, the NBA has partnered with Clorox to provide arenas and facilities with Clorox Disinfecting Wipes and guidance on usage. In addition to wearing face coverings and proper social distancing, these steps will help maintain a clean and healthy environment for all.

In order for these arenas to properly function as voting supercenters, there have to be enough poll workers to keep up with the demand. The NBA, WNBA and G League has partnered with Power The Polls to help league office employees and fans connect with opportunities to work the polls in their community. Individual teams are following suit, with the Atlanta Hawks set to have over 200 employees working to support early voting at State Farm Arena.

With help from More Than A Vote, the NAACP LDF and Power The Polls and in support of their “We Got Next” poll worker recruitment campaign, the NBA hosted 40 first-time poll workers from More Than A Vote, President Barack Obama and 15 NBA champions in a virtual fan section during Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Following the game 10,000 new poll workers signed up, joining thousands others volunteering this election, including Magic center Mo Bamba who declared via Twitter that he will be working the polls in Orlando this year.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the NBA family’s efforts this election season is encouraging fans to register to vote, create a plan for voting and then executing that plan in order to have their voice heard on Election Day.

In September, WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks and Vice President Layshia Clarendon of the New York Liberty joined WNBA legend Lisa Leslie and NBA legends such as Alex English, Kenny Smith and Jalen Rose among others as ambassadors of Rock The Vote’s Hoopers Vote campaign to promote voter registration and voting education.

The WNBA and WNBPA also partnered with Rock The Vote on a public service announcement that ran during the NBA and WNBA Playoffs – “The Voting Playbook” – to give step-by-step instructions for fans to successfully register to vote, learn all voting options available, submit the ballot on or before Nov. 3.

While the goal of registering voters was universal, WNBA and NBA teams still found a way to inject some competition along the way. As part of When We All Vote, nine WNBA teams competed in the Unite The Vote registration challenge to see which team could garner the most voter registrations between Aug. 18 and Sept. 18. And in a bit of WNBA Playoffs foreshadowing, the Seattle Storm topped the Las Vegas Aces to win the registration challenge and then the Storm topped the Aces in the 2020 WNBA Finals to win their fourth championship.

Not to be outdone, three NBA teams also got into the competitive spirit this election season with the Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors and Detroit Pistons partnering with I Am A Voter for the Voters Win registration competition, which began on Aug. 13 and runs through Election Day. The team with the most pledges at the end of each quarter will receive the John Lewis: Good Trouble Trophy, in honor of the late civil rights icon who dedicated his life to fighting for voting rights. The Hawks took the first three quarters, but the Warriors are making a strong push in the fourth.

The Pistons aren’t just encouraging fans to vote, they are ready to drive them to cast their ballots. In partnership with Rise Free – a student-led nonprofit organization that advocates for accessible and affordable higher education and mobilizes young people to vote – a Detroit Pistons wrapped bus will be running a continuous loop throughout Detroit to take residents to their local clerk’s office in order to vote. The service began on Oct. 12 and runs through Election Day on Nov. 3 with the Pistons also set to surprise riders on the bus with giveaways and entertainment on specific days.

These are just a handful of countless efforts being made by members across all aspects of the NBA family to encourage fans to participate in the election process and vote for the change that they want to see in their respective communities. With less than two weeks remaining before Election Day and #VoteEarlyDay beginning this Saturday, it is clutch time for these efforts.

The season may be over, but the work continues.