Voters cast their ballots Dec. 22 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Courtesy venue)

State Farm Arena, Mercedes-Benz Stadium are early voting sites for Georgia runoffs

Early voting in Georgia’s crucial U.S. Senate runoff elections conducted at State Farm Arena and Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta went smoothly, according to officials at both venues, with more than 13,000 ballots cast at the arena.

Numbers were not immediately available for the stadium, a spokesman there said.

State Farm Arena, which had been used as a voting center in a runoff election in July and August and the presidential election in November, was open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 14-19 for voting in the runoff elections for Georgia’s two Senate seats. Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff were elected to those seats, flipping control of the Senate from the Republicans to the Democrats.

Amy Phuong, vice president of government relations for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, said the arena accommodated close to 55,000 voters through all three elections: about 40,000 for the November election, 13,000 to 14,000 for the senatorial runoffs and about 2,000 for the July/August election.

Early voting then shifted to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which was open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 22, 23 and 26; noon to 6 p.m. Dec. 27; and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Dec. 28, 29 and 30. Neither venue was a polling place on Tuesday, the official election day.

More than 200 people were trained to handle the balloting at the arena, with many deputized as poll workers, Phuong said. The building, which had a water leak on Election Day in November that turned out to be a minor disruption, also served as a ballot processing location.

The idea of using the arena as a polling site was the idea of Hawks and State Farm Arena CEO Steve Koonin. Koonin told VenuesNow in an interview last year that the idea came to him after seeing protesters take to Atlanta’s streets after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, which set off demonstrations, protests and civil unrest across the U.S.

Koonin called the arena polling place “a library on steroids,” a reference to a typical voting location, but with the space to handle the physical distancing requirements aimed at avoiding coronavirus spread while facilitating a key democratic function, Phuong said.