A League of Fans Special Feature
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers
Eugene Jarecki is co-chair (with Amber McReynolds) of the Election Super Centers Project, a non-partisan, joint initiative of the National Vote at Home Institute and Silver Linings Group. The Project’s mission is to help sports team and arena owners and operators work with election officials to open large venues as polling sites in 2020. The Project convenes experts in public health, venue security and election integrity to ensure that millions of Americans will be able to vote safely and securely in the November elections.
Jarecki is an acclaimed filmmaker and long-time public policy advocate. He has won the Sundance Grand Jury prize, along with Emmy and Peabody awards for his creative work. Many of his documentaries have focused on corruption, exploitation and social injustice. He is also the author of The American Way of War: Guided Missiles, Misguided Men, and a Republic in Peril. He was born in New Haven, Connecticut, grew up in New York and attended Princeton University.
Jarecki was recently interviewed by Ken Reed, League of Fans’ Sports Policy Director.
Ken Reed: How did the concept of Election Super Centers come about and how did you get involved?
Eugene Jarecki: The idea originated with Amber McReynolds, who is the former Director of Elections in Denver and current CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute. She was part of a working group that I organized at the dawn of the pandemic called the Silver Linings Group, which is devoted to making the most, and avoiding the worst, that can come from a time of crisis. One of the areas that many members were concerned about as we entered 2020 was the security of the 2020 election and the issue of voter access.
Amber said that when she was Director of Elections in Denver she had once tried to get the Denver Broncos, and other pro franchises in town, to open their doors as offsite polling centers to ease the load on the existing election infrastructure. At the time, it wasn’t possible for a variety of reasons. But when she brought it up in the context of Covid-19, fireworks went off in my head. I said that’s the greatest idea since sliced bread.
These places are all sitting on their hands right now, collecting dust, because of the way the virus has impacted public live events. I thought we could approach these arenas and spread the word. So, we named our initiative Election Super Centers and started to spread the word in the sports world and also the world of election officials. We found out immediately that election officials were thrilled to hear about it.
Around that time, we heard that LeBron James and his group, More Than a Vote, were interested. LeBron stepped forward and leveraged his enormous popularity and credibility to endorse the idea of using arenas as voting centers and the concept took off. Shortly thereafter, Doc Rivers (head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers) joined our group. Doc is a national treasure and he started reaching out to NBA teams across the country. He was critical in securing from the NBA the commitment to endorsing and creating Election Super Centers across the league.
Reed: How many arenas have signed on as Election Super Centers?
Jarecki: We have a dozen now and we’re in dialog with another 35 pro and college arenas around the country. We’d like to see 50 to 100 come on board by Election Day, or by the start of early voting, depending on the state.
Reed: What are the hurdles to getting these Election Super Centers approved in various states?
Jarecki: Some states will say it’s too late; we’ve already designated sites. In which case, we offer that the Election Super Centers can be contingency sites in case CDC guidelines, or other circumstances, change around Election Day.
The whole idea of the Election Super Centers is not to replace existing election infrastructure but to provide supplemental voting opportunities so there’s pressure relieved on the existing infrastructure. So, for example, if there’s another spike in the pandemic and some compulsory closures of existing voting centers occur, the Super Centers could be used as contingency spaces.
It’s so important for Americans to be given greater voter access, where they can vote in a safe environment during the time of a pandemic. People can avoid the lines that are both a frustration and a difficulty for people, and a bit of a super spreader risk.
The overarching goal is to help Americans act on their most precious American right and let them know they can exercise that right in a safe and secure manner.
We are living in a crucial moment in our history. Whatever the outcome of this election is going to be, it needs to come from all Americans. If it comes from all Americans, I’ll embrace that outcome.
Reed: The sports world is clearly a big part of this current initiative. Do you believe the sports world can be a big driver of positive change in this country, not just in regards to this election but moving forward?
Jarecki: Certainly. Athletes have long had the power to help change society. Think of the incredible Black Power salute that athletes gave at the 1968 Olympics. We saw Muhammad Ali stand up against the Vietnam War and literally lose his title and trade his prime for it. I was formed as a young person by Muhammad Ali’s conscientious objection to the Vietnam War. He was my idol.
It continues all the way up to today with Colin Kaepernick, who had the courage to not only take a knee but to trade his career for a cause. And LeBron, with his More Than A Vote effort, is a symbol of our current moment regarding voter access and engagement.
When sports figures are willing to trade moments in which they could just be basking in glory and instead see there’s something “bigger than me” that needs to be talked about — and act on it — that’s powerful.
Reed: What is the end game with your effort?
Jarecki: We’d love to see 50 to 100 arenas on board by Election Day and allow some number of millions of Americans to have greater voter access. Also, we’d like to see all these Election Super Centers become mega recruiting sites for poll workers.
We want this effort to stand as a symbol that 2020 was a much healthier election than elections before it, notwithstanding all that’s being done to undermine it. We want to demonstrate how efforts like this can actually pave the way for how America should vote in the future. A future where there will be a wider net cast of how polling places express themselves. A future where there will be more early voting and more voting by mail. Overall, a more sane approach to voting than America’s had for so long; where voting is intentionally on a Tuesday, which is a work day, which makes it hard for working people to vote.
European countries look on and they’re flabbergasted that the so-called beacon of democracy, America, has become a place with such a paper think commitment to the most precious element of democracy, which is the vote itself.
Reed: Thank you for your time Eugene.
Jarecki: Thank you.
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Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
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League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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