Magic to open arena to voters, as NBA election push grows

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The Orlando Magic announced Wednesday that their home arena will serve as an early voting site for the upcoming general election, continuing the rapidly growing movement from across the NBA to open buildings to voters in the coming weeks.

The Magic are opening Amway Center on Sept. 22 for a voter registration event, then will be open to all voters from Orange County daily from Oct. 19 through Nov. 1 to take early ballots. The general election is Nov. 3.

“Voting to me is the most American thing you can do for a democracy to work,” said Magic center Mo Bamba, who will be working at the arena as a volunteer during early voting. “I learned that at a very young age in elementary school, just voting for a class president. This is something I just want to push for.”

At least 20 NBA teams have revealed plans to set up voting centers for this year’s election — with the majority of those announcements coming in the last week and sparked in large part by the decision of NBA players to halt their participation in the ongoing playoffs for three days in protest of racial injustice and police brutality.

Players returned to work after agreeing with the league and teams on a plan for action which largely revolves around encouraging voting this fall. Teams, in every city where they own and control arena property, promised to work with local elections officials to convert the facility into a voting location — or, at the very least, hold voter registration events.

“I think the idea originated with the NBA and the players,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said. “I suppose if the Supervisor of Elections had come and asked us, it probably would have happened as well. But it certainly was the impetus from the NBA and the purpose in doing that — so I’ll change my mind and say no, it probably wouldn’t have happened without the NBA.”

Some teams, such as Atlanta, Charlotte, Detroit, Cleveland, Washington and Sacramento, were committed to setting up voting centers — whether it will be for actual casting of ballots or registering citizens to vote — before last week’s stoppage of play.

Added to that list in recent days: Brooklyn, Dallas, Houston, Indiana, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers (in two different arenas), Milwaukee, New York, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Utah, the Magic, and later Wednesday Phoenix announced plans as well. The Suns, in concert with the WNBA’s Mercury, said they secured Veterans Memorial Coliseum as a voting center and early voting ballot drop location; Phoenix’s home building, the Talking Stick Resort Arena, is not available because of construction projects.

Multiple other teams, including Miami, are pushing local and county officials to allow their facilities be early voting sites starting next week as well.

“Ultimately, I think it’s maybe the most important thing that we as an organization, the players, the coaches, everybody just really encouraging and helping to facilitate people voting,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said Wednesday. “That’s what democracy is. It’s founded on all of us being represented.”

Top NBA players such as LeBron James have been promoting the need to vote this fall for some time. James is part of a voting rights group, More Than A Vote, formed this spring with other black athletes and entertainers — and part of its platform is to push for mega voting sites to accommodate in-person balloting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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