CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - This Sunday at Bank of America Stadium just around 1 p.m., the Carolina Panthers' game against the Chicago Bears will kickoff. About 5,200 fans will be in attendance socially distanced, as they were the week prior, and the Panthers will have an opportunity to extend the team’s winning streak to four.
In the same building at 1 p.m., the early voting location at the stadium will open. Any Mecklenburg County voter can go into the stadium from 1 -5 p.m. Sunday and cast their ballot in this year’s election.
The Panthers, as an organization and part of the NFL’s league-wide initiatives, have taken more of a vocal approach when it comes to voting and getting players more involved. That can be seen from television ads with Julius Peppers, Christian McCaffrey and Teddy Bridgewater to social media posts. Being able to vote in the same building during a game is one pretty special example.
The stadium is one of 33 polling sites in Mecklenburg County open for early voting with 15 voting machines at the stadium. The location is open every day, even on gamedays, through Oct. 31.
Friday afternoon, I went and early voted at the Bank of America Stadium location. Free parking is offered at the lot across the street (410 S. Mint Street) on non-gamedays and in the Legacy Union deck (720 S. Church St.) on the two gamedays that apply (Oct. 18 and 29). Voting takes place in the Luxe Lobby entrance area located at the stadium’s North Gate entrance (Graham St.).
The process was quick and easy. In and out in 15 minutes. There was a small line, but it moved quickly. Everyone was wearing masks and keeping a distance. Each voter is given a “I VOTED” pen when they enter that is also used as a stylus to safely make selections on the ballot screen.
The Panthers are one of 16 NFL teams utilizing their facilities for a variety of election-related activities. It was impossible to walk past that section of Graham St. and not see what is taking place. 1,042 people voted at the stadium during the first day of early voting Oct. 15.
Voting is always important, but it was interesting to see people excited to vote at the stadium specifically for the first time. Voters were taking pictures outside with a panther statue in the background and there were multiple families, including some with childen, waiting to cast their vote.
One of the Panthers' players goals this year, partly through the team’s Player Impact Committee, was to get people registered to vote and getting the message out about the importance of doing so.
Players and staff taking a more vocal role in speaking up about what is important to them can be seen beyond voting as well, something that didn’t occur as much previously, especially when Jerry Richardson owned the team. Several Panthers players, including quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and wide receiver Robby Anderson, have been kneeling during the national anthem every week and speaking up about issues they care about leading up to and during the season.
While the players are busy preparing to play the Bears Sunday, the visual of voting signs outside of the stadium they are playing in is more meaningful than designating where to go and vote. It’s educating the young fans in McCaffrey and Brian Burns jerseys that is important too.
“I think it’s very important (to vote). I know for me growing up, I wasn’t taught to vote,” linebacker Shaq Thompson said in August, sharing that 2020 would be his first year voting. “Just hearing it, understanding like, oh, your vote does matter. It changes the difference. Makes me want to register. I just got done registering actually. And it makes me want to reach out to guys back in my community and tell them to vote and get a whole pamphlet out and try to teach them and understand like your vote doesn’t matter and stuff like that. It’s interesting just to hear that my vote does matter and it does count.”
Early voting will continue at Bank of America Stadium, as well as all 33 voting sites, until Oct. 31. It is open Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m.-3 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Bank of America Stadium will not serve as a voting location on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.