By KENDALL KARSON, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — NBA superstar LeBron James is wading further into the fight over voter suppression, with his voting rights organization, More Than A Vote, launching a multimillion-dollar campaign to fortify the number of poll workers in vulnerable Black communities.
The group, which bands together James, other star athletes, state election officials and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, is partnering to draft young activists to work at polling locations for November’s general election across the southern and battleground states of Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina and Texas.
“There are a lot of people who grew up in the inner city who are afraid to vote,” James, the star of the Los Angeles Lakers, told reporters last week while wearing a “More Than a Vote” T-shirt inside the NBA’s quarantined campus in Orlando, Florida. “We’re giving everyone the tools, outlets.”
Some of the states at the center of the effort were some of the sites of this year’s most chaotic primaries. Georgia was one of the largest states to struggle with running an election during the COVID-19 pandemic — but it is not alone. In early April, Wisconsin wrestled with similar challenges — and saw similar scenes of long lines and voter confusion — in what could be an unnerving preview of November if the virus persists.
In Georgia, hours-long lines were compounded by problems with voting equipment and poll worker shortages, particularly in Atlanta’s populous Fulton County.
In Wisconsin, the delays were due in part to nearly 60% of Wisconsin municipalities reporting a shortage of poll workers, and 111 jurisdictions reporting they could not staff even one polling place. Milwaukee, the state’s largest city, only had five polling locations, a fraction of the 180 that typically operate on election day.
The new initiative seeks to confront the shortage of election volunteers, particularly in communities of color. Atlanta is majority Black, according to U.S. Census data, and Milwaukee County is home to 69.4% of Wisconsin’s African American population, according to the most recent data cited by state’s Department of Health Services.
More than a Vote, which emerged in June amid demonstrations against the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, will focus on recruiting younger poll workers in order to shield older poll workers from the threat of the virus, organizers said. The effort will utilize corporate partnerships and paid advertising on digital, radio and TV to cast a wide net for volunteers.
The campaign, which was first reported by the New York Times and confirmed to ABC News, seeks to elevate the battle over voter suppression using the cultural influence of dozens of athletes and artists, along with the NAACP’s resources, a spokesperson for the group said.
More than a Vote is also working to transform sports arenas left vacant by the pandemic into massive polling locations — a model that was used in Kentucky’s primary elections in June with relative success. So far they’ve joined forces with sports teams in Atlanta, Cleveland, Charlotte, Detroit, Los Angeles and Sacramento.
The nonprofit also committed in July to help pay outstanding fines and fees for former felons in Florida seeking to vote in November.
James’ political involvement previously included endorsing Hillary Clinton in 2016 and appearing at a campaign rally. But his decision to launch More Than a Vote is perhaps his most consequential foray into the political arena.
“We know how important November is, but more importantly even past November because it doesn’t stop,” James said last week. “We don’t want it to stop. We want to continue to put our foot on the gas and continue to learn and continue to educate ourselves, because when we don’t it trickles down to the next generation — because knowledge is power and when you don’t have knowledge the kids that come after us, they don’t have it and it trickles down from generation to generation to generation. So I want create mental wealth for generations to come.”
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