For the first time in its 52-year history, Madison Square Garden will open its doors to voters in the upcoming general election. New York’s famed arena will serve as both an Early Voting site and an Election Day poll site—a major shift for one of the city’s largest sports and cultural institutions that could set a precedent that forces other venues to act as polling sites.
The announcement was a result of negotiations between the National Basketball Association and the National Basketball Association Players' Association, and a condition on the players resuming the playoffs, which had been brought to a halt after the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play the Orlando Magic on Wednesday. The Bucks refused to take to the court in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin; other teams in the NBA and WNBA playoffs joined the walk-out, and the strike spread to virtually every other professional sports league.
Major League Soccer called off its matches. Major League Baseball games were not played—the Mets and Marlins held a 42-second moment of silence at CitiField. The National Hockey League kept Wednesday games on the schedule but only cancelled them on Thursday, prompting criticism from players who felt the league shouldn't have been playing on Wednesday either.
Blake is currently in the hospital, paralyzed and had been handcuffed to the bed until Friday morning. The ensuing protests have left two men dead after a white, 17-year-old police-supporting militia member, Kyle Rittenhouse, was seen on video shooting protesters in Kenosha with an assault rifle.
Police officers also ignored an opportunity to immediately arrest Rittenhouse, who was then able to flee back to his home in Illinois. Rittenhouse was eventually apprehended and charged with first-degree homicide.
NBA players, who have been in Orlando as part of the playoff-pandemic "bubble," have spent an "emotional 48 hours" considering their actions and next steps. According to Yahoo Sports, "A players meeting was arranged for 8 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the next move. Some wanted to leave the bubble to be with family, others wanted to leave to get on the front lines and support change in the Black community, and others felt there’s no bigger platform than the one afforded in the bubble to get their messages across, sources said."
During a Thursday Zoom call between players and team owners, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James reportedly demanded that owners do more to help support the Black community. Michael Jordan, who is now an owner of the Charlotte Hornets, was reportedly a bridge between the players and team owners, and telling owners, "Right now, listening is better than talking."
Today, NBA Players Association president Chris Paul, point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder, discussed how he and others were feeling. "We're just tired of seeing the same thing over and over again," he said.
Paul has encouraged all NBA players register to vote; apparently only 20% are currently registered.
BOE and MSG sources say they have been working together on this announcement for several weeks before the NBA protests.
So far, the Garden is the only major sports arena in the New York region to commit to being open for voting. The Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which is home to the Brooklyn Nets and the WNBA’s New York Liberty, did not respond to a request for comment and the BOENYC said they are not currently committed to being a poll site.
Despite its size, stretching from from 31st to 33rd streets between 7th and 8th avenues, not just any voter will be able to cast their ballot at The Garden. Only Manhattan voters who are assigned to the site will be eligible to vote there. The BOENYC estimates it will serve roughly 50,000 voters during early voting, which begins on October 24th and runs through November 1st. Another 10,000 voters are expected to cast their vote on Election Day.
Since early voting started in November 2019, the BOENYC has struggled to secure enough poll sites across the city, especially in Manhattan (there were 9 sites in 2019, and 12 in June 2020). Earlier this year, Gothamist / WNYC reported on dozens of cultural institutions across the city that receive more than half a billion dollars in tax benefits that refuse to open their doors to voters as poll sites. Madison Square Garden hasn't paid state property taxes in 37 years, costing New York City taxpayers a total of $555 million.
“In an election where enthusiasm is at a fever pitch, we recognize the significance of having a venue like MSG on our side to make the process not only more convenient, but really give voters the sense they are part of something exciting and historic," BOENYC Executive Director Mike Ryan said in a statement.