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Sports, activism and COVID-19 create an unlikely polling place in Brooklyn

New York State has never allowed early voting for a presidential election before—but nothing about 2020 has been normal. NY early voting began Saturday, and as New Yorkers lined up around the block to cast their ballots an unlikely venue opened its doors to voters. NewHour Weekend’s Christopher Booker reports from the Barclays Center, normally a sports venue, now a voting hub in Brooklyn, NY.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Yesterday, New York state opened up early voting for the first time in a presidential election. Across New York City, lines snaked around polling places for blocks, and people waited hours in some locations.

    Both the city's main sporting arenas, Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, have become makeshift polling centers. It's a move that was spurred in part by the athletes themselves.

    PBS NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker has more.

  • Christopher Booker:

    Under normal circumstances, in late October, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, would most likely be starting the NBA season.

    As we all know, circumstances are not normal. But at least for the next couple of days, the Barclays Center will be bringing people back inside. Not for a game, but to cast their vote.

  • John Abbamondi:

    This will be the largest public event that we've had here at Barclays Center since we shut down back in March.

  • Christopher Booker:

    John Abbamondi is the CEO of BSE Global, the company that manages the Barclays Center.

  • John Abbamondi:

    It just became very apparent to us that there was a real need for, for the city to open up more voting places, more early voting places. And we had this magnificent facility here, lots of square footage, as you could tell, very, very centrally located.

  • Christopher Booker:

    This all comes in part after the summer saw organized and sustained calls for police reform following the death of George Floyd.

    Abbamondi says Barclays approached the New York Board of Elections in June after protests erupted around the New York City.

    Other stadiums across the country became available after a player strike halted the already delayed NBA season in August following the shooting of Jacob Blake.

    As part of the negotiations to return, the players union asked that franchise-owned and operated arenas be converted into voting facilities, whether for early voting or on election day.

  • Christopher Booker:

    The last time I was here was actually in June during the protests.

  • John Abbamondi:

    We welcomed the role that we played this summer when people felt that this was a place to come and express their point of view and advocate for social justice and that's a cause that we support as well. So it seemed only natural that a place that had become the community gathering spot to seek change would now be a place where people could come to exercise their vote, as well.

  • Christopher Booker:

    Executive Director of the New York Board of Elections Michael Ryan stresses while Barclays is the largest early voting location in Brooklyn, it's just one of 88 in New York.

  • Michael Ryan:

    Four years ago, we had about 125,000 absentee ballot applications. This year we have already over a million and the deadline hasn't yet passed.

  • Christopher Booker:

    He says New York expects to see larger than average voter turnout, and even with a space like Barclays, voters should be prepared for a wait.

    With early voting in NYC starting yesterday, on a weekend, voters may have had extra time for the hours-long line outside of Barclays, mirroring similar scenes that have played out in early voting lines across the country.

    And while it's unknown when there will be lines at Barclays again to watch the team in action, it seems the arena and its function has changed.

    Do you think if the players had not been as active as they had been, that this would be happening?

  • John Abbamondi:

    The fact that they spoke up the way they did is really, really helpful because it allows us to link arms in common cause. I think you have to give a lot of credit to our players. You know, they're very socially active. They care a lot about the communities and they've used their platform and their voice to try to seek change.

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