NBA franchise steps up its get out the vote efforts

By Michael Kinney

Late last month NBA players stunningly boycotted postseason games last month to protests the death of unarmed black men and women at the hands of the police. At the time it seemed unorganized and rash.

 To many it didn’t seem the mass sit out would accomplish much, especially after they decided to go back to work three days later and the playoffs resumed.

However, Oklahoma City guard Chris Paul, who is also the president of the NBA Players Union, hinted at the time that projects were in the works.

“One of the biggest things that guys talked about in our meeting, which was great, that we got a chance to get together and discuss these things is voting,” Paul said. “Voting is something that everyone in the room was very passionate about. We understand how strong our voice is, how powerful our voice is. And ultimately, we decided if we go away from this stage, we don’t necessarily have that same platform.”

Those demands have seemingly been heard and acknowledged.  Since the end of the sit-out NBA franchises around the country have announced that their staffs and facilities will be used in a variety of different ways to encourage and facilitate avenues to vote.

That includes the Oklahoma City Thunder, which announced last week the formation of Thunder Vote, a multi-faceted and sustainable initiative to promote voting, with an emphasis on ensuring that all eligible Oklahoma citizens are registered to vote, educate themselves on candidates and issues, and then cast their ballots via in-person or early and mail-in absentee voting.

“Voting is an absolute cornerstone of our democracy and the Thunder is proud to help spread the message of the importance of registering and voting,” said Christine Berney, Thunder vice president of Community Relations. “Thunder Vote provides citizens with information and resources to help them be fully registered and educated voters.”

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association agreed on a series of social reform priorities, including a significant focus on voting and using team arenas and other resources for voting purposes. As part of those efforts, the Thunder will use Chesapeake Arena as a site for non-partisan voter registration drives, beginning Saturday, Sept. 12 from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. 

The Chesapeake Energy Arena

The arena will be open every Saturday at that same time through Oct. 4. These events will provide citizens with access to computers, printers, postage-paid envelopes and other resources for them to register to vote and, if they would like, apply for an absentee ballot, which would be mailed to them. 

This idea was spawned from conversations between NBA players during the boycott, according to Paul.

“We got a chance to discuss. We got a chance to talk to the different governors and tell them how, we want all of the NBA arenas to be polling sites,” Paul said. “And it’s funny, I had a conversation with J.R. Smith on my way over here, and J.R. told me that, he had spoken to the mayor where he’s from and they’re going to open up an arena there for voting.”

Yet, as an organization, the Thunder declared they want to do more than just opening up its doors. They plan to go out into the communities around the state to encourage and educating citizens on the importance of getting out to vote.

According to the franchise, the Thunder will coordinate with local leaders and organizations to take the register and vote message into neighborhoods throughout the community, with the goal of making the resources and information as accessible as possible. 

With Thunder Vote, there will be an emphasis on education and access to all forms of voting to provide more citizens the ability to vote as easily and safely as possible, according to Thunder officials. That includes informing citizens on some of their basics voting rights, like absentee ballots.

Due to the COVID-19 declared state of emergency, the requirement to have absentee ballots notarized has been waived for the Nov. 3 general election. Only a copy of the voter’s valid ID will be required. In Oklahoma, voters do not need a stated reason to vote absentee by mail, and they can hand-deliver their absentee ballots directly to their county election board up until the close of business on the day before the election if they choose. 

The Thunder is partnering with the Oklahoma State Election Board to help promote the agency’s OK Voter Portal (elections.ok.gov) which provides online access to registration forms, absentee voting information, sample ballots, polling place locations, early voting opportunities and other information specific to the individual voter. The OK Voter Portal can be used to fill out and print registration forms. It also allows registered voters to fill out

Other segments of Thunder Vote includes an emphasis on ensuring all segments of the community have equal access to voting information and resources, working to educate young people of voting age on the importance of voting and offering them information and opportunities to register with events at schools, college campuses and other locations. 

The Thunder also plans to use its social media, digital and broadcast platforms to spread the get out and vote message.

“This is a non-partisan initiative to ensure that all eligible citizens in our community have the access and support they need to register, vote and have their voices heard in all federal, state and local elections,” Berney said. “This has become a permanent priority of the Thunder organization.”

Story & Photo by Michael Kinney/Michael Kinney Media

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