SAN ANTONIO – The AT&T Center will have a different look this fall. Instead of being filled with cheering Spurs fans, it will host voters as it’s transformed this October and November into a mega voting site for the first time in its history.
The NBA and National Basketball Players Association agreed on Aug. 28 to allow teams to use their home arenas as polling places after a walkout by players in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.
But Spurs Sports and Entertainment and Bexar County, which owns the AT&T Center, had already been discussing the use of the arena for election purposes for months.
“We had conversations with the Spurs and their general counsel going back to probably May,” said Justin Rodriguez, Precinct 2 county commissioner.
Rodriguez said the key discussions surrounding the use of the East Side arena came down to voter access, maximizing space inside the facility and keeping residents as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is going to be a historic turnout election,” said Rodriguez. “We know there’s a general level of interest that’s probably above the norm. That coupled with the pandemic, we’ve never had a general election or a significant election in a COVID-19 environment.”
Voters will be kept six-feet apart to maintain social distance. Rodriguez said there will be no shortage of personal protective equipment inside the arena for voters and election workers. He also expects at least 50 voting machines to be available at each mega polling site.
“The concept was ’let’s look for larger facilities with good air circulation.’ The idea of putting 50 or 75 voting machines in each mega centers, making sure they have accessible parking and ADA access,” said Rodriguez. “Bus line access is another thing. We want to make sure that is occurring.”
Rodriguez said along with the AT&T Center, three other mega voting sites are expected to be voted on and finalized soon in commissioner’s court.
The Alzafar Shrine Temple on the North Side and Mission Concepción Sports Complex on the South Side are two other likely sites.
A West Side location had not been selected. Still, Rodriguez is encouraged by the number of early voting locations that should be available for voters across the city.
That includes an agreement to use Our Lady of the Lake University on the West Side as an early voting site for the first time.
“We are pushing to increase the number of early voting sites. Typically we’ve had somewhere around 35 or 38. We want to increase that to 50 if we can,” said Rodriguez. “We want to make sure that people have access and they know where to go.”
While the game plan for the AT&T Center is still being finalized, Rodriguez said Spurs Sports and Entertainment has offered to keep the arena open for extended voting hours and possibly have some of their employees help during early voting and election day on Nov. 3.
The AT&T Center is expected to be available throughout early voting which runs from Oct. 13-30.
“They are ultimately always about community and they are always about making sure, particularly people are engaged in civic awareness,” said Rodriguez. “I give credit to the Spurs, their ownership and management. They were very proactive in this instance.”
The county is pushing for more innovative ways to reach voters as part of its SMART Elections Initiative, which stands for safe, modern, accessible, reliable and transparent.
With the AT&T Center and Spurs on board, Rodriguez said the county hopes to reach more underserved communities.
“We know the history of voter disenfranchisement in our community, not just here, but everywhere,” said Rodriguez. “The better access we have, the more we get the word out, the more polls we have available, the longer hours we have. It gives everyone an opportunity to get out and express their voice.”
MORE VOTE 2020 STORIES:
Here’s how to vote by mail in Bexar County or how to deliver your absentee ballot in person
How to register to vote in Texas for the Nov. 3 presidential election