County officials throughout Florida are divided as to whether or not they should enforce coronavirus mask mandates at the polls in November, prompting worries that their squabbling could foreshadow the country at large on election day.
A survey among counties in Florida shows different policies on how election officials plan to handle voters who refuse to wear a mask.
Wendy Link, the supervisor of elections in Palm Beach County, told the Sun-Sentinel she plans to enforce the county’s mask mandate on Nov. 3. But she later told CBS12 News that no voters would be turned away.
In Indian River County, where residents are required to wear masks, Supervisor of Elections Leslie Rossway Swan said she “can’t turn a voter away because they don’t have a mask on.”
Martin County Supervisor Vicki Davis told CBS12 News that polls will be exempted from a countywide mask mandate, but will provide masks for voters who prefer to wear one.
“You don’t want to disenfranchise anyone coming in,” she said. “There are some individuals who elect not to, and some who may have a medical condition that doesn’t really allow them to wear a mask.”
Meanwhile, a Palm Beach County attorney has recently challenged a judge’s ruling that the county’s mask mandate is constitutional and in the interest of public health. The attorney, Cory Strolla, noted that poll workers who turn voters away for not wearing a mask could land the county in some “legal hot water.”
“It’s the people that don’t even know these exemptions exist, and are lawful, that’s really what I’m worried about in this upcoming 2020 election,” he said.
In Broward County, administrators are taking a more hardline approach, despite elections officials saying they can’t deny people the right to vote.
Lenny Vialpando, director of Broward County’s Environmental Protection & Growth Management Department, said this week that anyone “endangering the public by disregarding the mask order” will be subject to a citation.
In response, Steve Vancore, a Broward elections office spokesman, said poll workers will “nudge, encourage, and remind” anti-maskers of the county’s ordinance, but ultimately cannot deny them the right to vote. He said if the county wants to fine the elections office for allowing people to vote without a mask, “we’ll take that up if it happens.”
The matter of mandating masks on voting day, and possibly turning away people who do not, has raised questions of whether it violates the U.S. Constitution. Legal experts cited by the Sun-Sentinel said mandating masks won’t necessarily violate the constitution because it ensures the safety of all voters.
Caroline Mala Corbin, a law professor at the University of Miami, said the constitutional right to vote has certain limits. She noted that the Supreme Court can require voters to show an ID card before voting.
“If it can require you to bring an ID card to protect election integrity; it can require you to wear a mask to protect the health of everyone around you,” Corbin said. “To refuse to wear a mask is to compromise the voting rights of other people at the polling place.”
Elsewhere, the issue of masks on Election Day remains at the forefront of discussions on what to expect that day. Last week, election officials in St. Louis and St. Louis County in Missouri said both polls workers and voters will be required to wear masks on Nov. 3, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
In other parts of the country, officials have tried to skirt around the issue altogether by expanding mail-in options. This week in New Jersey, for instance, the Burlington County Board of Elections implemented a new plan for mail-in ballots to be sent to all registered voters no later than Oct. 5, centraljersey.com reported.
And in Minnesota, a voters alliance group as filed a lawsuit seeking a restraining order against Gov. Tim Walz’s mandate to wear face masks at polling places on Election Day, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. The governor has not issued a decision on the matter.