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Pistons partner with Secretary of State to drive voter participation

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

The Pistons are looking to make it easier for Detroit residents to vote — and their employees as well.

On Wednesday, the team announced a new partnership with the Michigan Secretary of State’s office to enhance voter education and increase voter awareness and participation in the upcoming August primary election and November general elections.

Among the initiatives is a company-wide paid day off for the Aug. 4 primary and Nov. 3 general elections, which will make it easier for team employees to vote at their local polling places, in addition to participating in volunteer opportunities as election workers to advocate for others to vote. 

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The Pistons' practice facility will serve as a voting satellite center during the November election.

“Our organization is committed to promoting informed participation in the electoral process,” Pistons team owner Tom Gores said in a statement. “We are pleased to partner with the Department of State on its efforts to register and enroll eligible voters for this year’s elections, and to provide our employees with the day off on election day to ensure they are able to get to the polls and make their voices heard.”

The new partnership includes other initiatives with Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, including:

► Designating the team’s practice facility in midtown Detroit, the Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center, as a voting satellite center for the Nov. 3 election, where on-site registration and voting can take place.

► Establishing and coordinating programs for Pistons employees to become volunteer election workers for both the Aug. 4 and Nov. 3 elections.

► Partnering with the Secretary of State office to create public service announcements with Pistons players, coaches and other personalities to boost voter education and increase familiarity with the voting process.

► Promoting voter registration on the team’s website and creating a portal for residents to register online to vote, including an option to vote by mail.

► Hosting registration and education events with non-partisan community organizations to increase understanding of the voting process.

Coach Dwane Casey was one of the main advocates of the program, teaming with vice chairman Arn Tellem to get buy-in from Gores and then rolling the plan out to the entire organization. 

"Voting is such a right — that sometimes the younger generation takes it for granted, but for us older folks, it’s something I remember my grandparents talking about they couldn’t vote," Casey said. "We want to encourage everyone to get out and vote. It’s a right and privilege that we can’t take for granted." 

Giving employees the day off for election day is a new idea that more companies are embracing, but having them also volunteer and help with voter education is a step further that the Pistons wanted to take.

Noting the rise in voter disenfranchisement in recent elections and the many errors that can be made in completing a ballot, Tellem sees the importance of going through each step in the process to ensure that ballots aren't spoiled because of mistakes in filling them out. 

"The (voter) education piece is as important — if not more important — than the registration. Most people are registered; it’s making sure they vote and their votes count. One of the problems is making sure they making sure they’re filling out accurately, so they can’t be invalidated later.

"We'll spend time through PSAs and counseling with volunteers to make sure voters know how to fill out the ballot and it’s correct and that they're voting on all the issues and candidates. That’s an important part of this initiative."

Benson lauded the Pistons’ efforts to improve voter awareness and simplify the process of getting citizens registered and ready to vote.

“The Detroit Pistons are tremendous civic leaders and I am proud to partner with them to ensure more citizens are educated voters and active participants in our democracy,” Benson said. “As we’ve worked with them over the past few weeks to develop this robust and comprehensive partnership, it’s become clear that the Pistons’ commitment to ensuring our elections are accessible to all is a reflection of their dedication to their fans and the entire Michigan community.”

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard