Pistons rally behind get out the vote message

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — With a week remaining before the Michigan primary and less than 100 days until the Nov. 3 general election, Pistons employees are getting in gear.

The team announced this month that it will open its practice facility in Midtown as a satellite voting center and partner with the Michigan Secretary of State’s office to train election workers and increase voter awareness.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, with her 4-year-old son Aiden, talks with the Pistons' volunteers about their partnership in the Aug. 4 election.

That initiative continued Tuesday afternoon with a training session for volunteers at the Henry Ford Pistons Performance Center, including a visit from Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. About 60 volunteers took part in the training, provided by city of Detroit election officials.

Pistons employees will have a paid day off for both the Aug. 4 primary and Nov. 3 general election. The additional help will help compensate for many of the workers who usually work in the polling places.

“There’s a nationwide shortage of poll workers right now. It’s one of the dominant conversations that we’re having across the country and here in Michigan,” Benson said. “What we’ve done through our Democracy MVP program is recruit 5,000 people from across the state who are willing to step up and fill the spaces that may be left vacant because a traditional poll worker may be immune-compromised or for whatever reason may not want to work.

“They’re filling a critical need here in the city of Detroit whereas the court recently said there’s a need for hundreds of poll workers to fill a need for this August primary and for November. What happens is if you don’t fill that gap, precincts can’t open, and then you have a lot of the long lines and crowding that we’ve seen in Georgia and Wisconsin and other states.”

The Pistons have produced several public service announcements around the new partnership, featuring Rick Mahorn, coach Dwane Casey and former Detroit mayor and Pistons icon Dave Bing.

The initiative also includes information about voter registration and voter education to ensure that ballots are done completely and correctly.

“This election is probably more important than ever, and the Pistons know they have a platform and voice to help others get involved,” said Erika Swilley, vice president of community and social responsibility for the Pistons.

“The Pistons released a statement about social justice and one thing we talked about was not just talk the talk but walk the walk and one commitment was civic engagement. Voting and the census play a huge role in that and we’re doing our part to make sure we can use our assets, including our facility, and athletes present and former, to deliver a message to people and let them know the importance of voting.”

Utilizing the Pistons’ practice facility allows the poll workers to leverage a larger facility to help promote physical distancing. Having an all-in-one satellite location help accommodate larger crowds, which can help more voters and alleviate some of the pressure on smaller traditional locations such as schools.

“We’ve learned a lot this past year with the two elections we’ve already had, particularly the March primary, of where the bottlenecks are, and in the city of Detroit as well as a few other communities in the state, you had a lot of people showing up to register and vote on election day and get their ballots and return their ballots,” Benson said. “We’re trying to minimize crowding for this August primary and the November election and so what using this facility and having it staffed by this team helps us do is give people another place to go if they want to register to vote on election day if they want to get a ballot or return a ballot.”


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard