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Monroe County polls will offer masks to voters who don’t arrive wearing one



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Monroe County poll workers will offer masks to voters who arrive without one this fall. 

Masks are required inside public places per county and state mask mandates. If a voter refuses to accept the mask a poll worker provides at the door, election officials cannot force them to wear one, Monroe County Election Supervisor Karen Wheeler said. 

“If I send someone away because they’re not wearing a mask, I’m suppressing their vote,” she said in an interview.

Monroe County Health Administrator Penny Caudill said in an email that face coverings are “expected and encouraged” and will be available for anyone who needs one. 

The Monroe County clerk’s office agreed that turning away a voter for not wearing a mask would qualify as voter suppression. 

Officials in a handful of other states, including Wisconsin, Ohio and Illinois, have reached the same conclusion.

In Monroe County, poll workers will wear masks or face shields, which will also be provided by local election headquarters, Wheeler said in an Election Board meeting Thursday. But a voter’s decision to wear a mask — even if that choice violates a county or statewide order — cannot interfere with their right to cast a ballot. 

Handing out masks is one of several safety precautions Wheeler is planning for polling locations. 

Markers at each polling site will enforce social distancing while people wait in line. Where polling locations were previously in meeting rooms, many will now be in gyms, Election Board Chair Hal Turner said. Doors will be kept open for better ventilation. 

Voting rooms will have tables instead of their usual booths because tables are easier to clean, Wheeler said. Chairs will be available upon request but will be removed so poll workers don’t have to clean them.

Wheeler said she’s also requested 150 plexiglass dividers from Indiana’s Secretary of State to place between voters.

“I think we are doing above and beyond what you’re going to see at most places,” Wheeler said. 

The deadline to register to vote in Monroe County is Oct. 5. Early voting begins Oct. 6. The election board will finalize a list of polling sites Tuesday.

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