May 9, 2021

Divisions over face masks persisted at polling sites in parts of the US as voters showed up to cast their ballots
  • Face masks have been a contentious issue across the US as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, and that reality was unchanged at polling sites on Election Day.
  • Many jurisdictions have chosen not to enforce mask mandates at polling places so as not to discourage people from voting, The Wall Street Journal reported. 
  • At some polling sites, disputes over masks led to long lines, or some voters feeling intimidated and unsafe by those who chose not to wear them. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Polling sites were the latest battleground in disputes over face mask rules this Election Day. 

Arguably one of the most divisive issues in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, poll workers around the country were faced with critical decisions about how to deal with people who don’t want to wear them.

According to a Wall Street Journal report on Tuesday, many jurisdictions chose not to enforce mask-wearing in order to avoid discouraging people from voting.

However, the decision on whether or not to require masks caused various issues across the country, from disagreements over whether to put them on, to complaints about the symbols features different types of face coverings.

PBS reported that disputes over mask use in some cases led to long lines during early voting and election officials in some jurisdictions had to clear other polling stations for people not wearing masks, or direct them to machines away from voters who had their masks on. 

On Tuesday, WWMT news reporter Callie Rainey tweeted that in Paw Paw County, Michigan, lines at one polling site were 2 1/2 hours long. Rainey said the township clerk said “people refusing to wear masks and same-day registration” was causing the long line. 

During early voting, others told The Washington Post that they felt unsafe with people who showed up mask-less.

“I would call it a form of voter intimidation if you don’t have people wearing masks, especially when our community has been so drastically affected,” Héctor Sánchez Barba, executive director and CEO of Mi Familia Vota, a national advocacy group that organizes Latino voters told the Post.

The Morning Call, a local paper in Pennsylvania, reported some voters who noticed poll workers — who are required to wear masks but were not — believed the workers were conveying a political message. 

“Without the masks on, it’s clear they were making a political statement,” Brian Mauro told the newspaper.

The outlet also reported that Lehigh County Sheriff Joe Hanna had deputies change out of their masks that featured a thin-blue-line flag, a symbol that represents solidarity with police, after voters interpreted it as a rebuke of the Black Lives Matter movement. Hanna told the outlet there’s no policy that bars officers from wearing the symbol but the decision was made because of the controversy. 

“It’s a shame when something like this happens because it lowers law-enforcement morale,” Hanna said.

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