Oakland Coliseum gets new life as ‘Election Super Center’
on October 28, 2020
For almost ten months, the Athletics have kept the celebrations to themselves. Nearly 60,000 seats remain unoccupied at the Oakland Coliseum, as empty parking lots surround the sports complex. Players round the bases and see nothing but the concrete linings of a cavernous stadium.
This November, new life is returning to the Oakland sports complex as part of Alameda County’s efforts to make in-person voting safer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Across the state of California, voting precincts are making significant changes to the way in-person voting takes place. Traditional voting locations like classrooms or fire stations are being replaced with larger spaces like union halls and sports arenas. In accordance with COVID-19 protocols, Alameda County announced a new voting model with 100 new polling places that offer more space for social distancing.
“We want people to stay healthy, but we also want them to get their vote in and we want them to have confidence that their vote is going to get to us and it’s going to be counted,” said Tim Dupuis, Alameda County’s Registrar of Voters. “So we have lots of options available to them.”
Two of the new sites, provided by the Oakland Athletics and Golden State Warriors, are the first sports locations in county history to be used for voting.
“So we have these large facilities and what is common about these facilities, they’re all large, they have large open spaces that allow for large numbers of voting booths or machines still remaining socially distant,” said David Becker, Executive Director and Founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), said at a media briefing on the election. “They’re actually in some ways ideal voting locations.”
According to Becker, spaces like the Coliseum and Warriors facility are not only spacious but also close to public transportation routes, accessible for voters with disabilities and have strong sources of electricity to power voting machines.
Dupuis emphasized the importance of each site’s large parking lots, offering more space for curbside and drop box use in addition to the space for in-person voting.
“It’s not just the sports teams that have been very helpful. It’s all the community centers and the churches, and all the other organizations that have said that they were willing to work with us,” said Dupuis.
Organizations across the country are becoming active in voting efforts to keep poll workers and voters safe. The Election Super Centers Project, a national initiative led by Eugene Jarecki and Amber McReynolds, is one group leading the transformation of sports arenas into polling sites. “Super Centers [sports arenas] provide an invaluable service of making sure that people can vote. And the pandemic doesn’t get in the way,” said Jarecki, the project’s co-chair. The Project has turned more than 60 sports arenas around the country into polling locations, partnering with professional athletes, coaches and teams to engage voters in a new way during the pandemic.
“This is going to be one of the silver linings of the pandemic,” said Becker.
Despite the concerns of COVID-19, Dupuis and his office have seen an influx of community members registering to become poll workers. As of early October, the Registrar of Voters office had a reserve of over 3,000 election workers ready to work the Oakland stadiums and other sites.
Hayward resident Anne E. Marris, 55, has been a poll worker for the county since 1992. She’s not working the polls this year because of an administrative problem, but she said she’s concerned for poll workers’ safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. “When I think about myself I get really scared,” she said.
Stephen Saxon, 60, a second-time poll worker staffing a banquet hall in Hayward, spoke about the potential benefits of the new large voting sites. “To have it [voting sites] outside with God’s own ventilation system…that really would be optimal,” he said.
“I have a healthy level of anxiety,” he said. The decision to work the polls comes from the strong sense of duty he feels to help others. “I can only submit one vote for myself, but I can facilitate other people putting in their votes.”
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