Election administrators across the state are preparing to deal with an extra wrinkle on Nov. 3—masks. Voters refusing to wear them cannot be turned away from the polls, and poll workers are adapting plans to accommodate them.
If you show up to the polls without a mask, election workers will likely ask you to put one on to reduce the risk of contracting or spreading the COVID-19 virus. An executive order by Gov. Ned Lamont requires residents to wear masks in public or risk being fined. But according to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s office, Connecticut and nearly every other state has determined that maskless voters cannot be turned away.
“We cannot bar someone from voting because they refuse to wear a mask. Our guidance to the localities are five different options for redirecting the person so they don’t have to come into a polling place and potentially infect their neighbors,” Gabe Rosenberg, Merrill’s communications director, said Wednesday.
The options sent to local officials include offering a mask to the voter or holding their place in line while they return to their vehicle to grab their own mask. Poll workers can allow the voter to complete their ballot outside the polling place or offer a provisional ballot to complete in their vehicle and leave with poll workers. Another option involves creating a segregated spot in the polling location where a voter who refuses to wear a mask can complete a ballot away from other voters.
“We’ve thought very carefully about how to protect people’s health, not the least of which is the poll workers’. These are people who have volunteered because they care about their community. They should not be having to risk getting COVID because of that,” Rosenberg said.
Sue Armstrong, the Democratic registrar of voters in Stafford, said election officials plan to post signs requesting that voters wear masks. They will also have masks on hand for any voter who needs one but “we cannot insist they wear it,” she said. Poll workers will be taking their own precautions, she said.
“All poll workers will be wearing masks,” she said. Face shields, gloves and hand sanitizer will also be available at Stafford’s three polling locations. “Anything we can provide to make them feel safe.”
Another mask consideration for voters heading to the polls this year will be political advertising. If you’re planning to wear a mask with the words Trump or Biden on it, consider another option. Connecticut law prohibits certain kinds of political advertising within 75 feet of polling places including clothing with the likeness or name of candidates. If you show up with a campaign mask or t-shirt, you might be asked to turn it inside out.
That’s not to say all political speech is prohibited. Rosenberg said clothing with other types of political images and slogans are still fair game.
“It can be a picture of an elephant or a donkey is fine. Even the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ or ‘Time for a Change,’ those are all fine. What it can’t say is Biden or Trump or show their pictures,” he said.
This Connecticut law was tested back in 2010 when former World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon ran unsuccessfully for one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats. At the time, some election officials questioned whether WWE paraphernalia would constitute political advertising. A federal judge decided the law did not apply to the wrestling merchandise.
This year, the issue already has surfaced in areas of the country with early voting. A police officer in Miami will be disciplined after being photographed near a polling area wearing a Trump mask, according to the Miami Herald.
Rosenberg said he did not anticipate any major issues here in Connecticut. Most people are aware of the law and very little is prohibited by it, he said.
“If someone comes up with a t-shirt or a mask or a hat that isn’t permissible, they’re going to ask them to remove it or change or turn it inside out, whatever’s necessary. Historically, we’ve never had a problem with people complying with that.”
Armstrong agreed, saying voters wearing prohibited masks could turn them around or put on another one.
“In Stafford, we’re pretty respectful of each other, regardless of party. I don’t anticipate any problems but if there is, we’ll deal with them as they happen,” she said.