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LeBron James and a Multimillion-Dollar Push for More Poll Workers

2020-08-24 19:38:35

This is More Than a Vote’s second national campaign. Previous efforts included partnerships with teams in Los Angeles and Atlanta to turn their stadiums into polling places, as well as a statewide effort in Florida to help the formerly incarcerated restore their voting rights. This year, athletes across the country — and particularly Black athletes — have seen a surge in political activism mirroring the national wave. Mr. Vick credited people like Mr. James and Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who knelt during the national anthem to protest racism, for making political advocacy a priority for the modern athlete.

“When you’re young, the way you look at life, you don’t think that your vote counts,” Mr. Vick said. “When that was taken away from me, I felt like I had an obligation. I felt like I did myself a disservice.”

In focusing on poll workers, the group has landed on an issue that election officials and civil rights organizations believe will loom large in this year’s election. Because election site volunteers had typically been older Americans, a population uniquely affected by the coronavirus, experts such as Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund worry about the effect of them staying home this year — reduced polling locations in November and possibly longer lines, all of which could reduce voter turnout.

Ms. Ifill said the push to recruit poll workers was part of a multipronged approach from voting rights organizations, whose persistent concerns about voter suppression and ballot access are now amplified by the coronavirus. Access to mail-in ballots should be ensured, she said, but states should also take precautions to make in-person voting safe and accessible.

“Black people, particularly middle-aged and older Black people, prefer to vote in person rather than vote by mail,” Ms. Ifill said. “We need more poll workers and we need younger poll workers who can be resilient and work during early voting as well.”

Jocelyn Benson, who as Michigan’s secretary of state oversees the election process there, said she was grateful for the spotlight the athletes will bring to the issue.

“We’ve had three successful elections in Michigan so far this year because we have been able to fully staff our poll,” Ms. Benson said. “If we don’t have that, we can’t operate an election.”


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