Vot­ing in per­son? You’ll have your tem­per­a­ture checked first.

Vot­ers with high temp can still cast a bal­lot, but will use a seg­re­gated lo­ca­tion

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - By Emily Opilo

Bal­ti­more res­i­dents who opt to vote in per­son at early vot­ing cen­ters or on Elec­tion Day will be tem­per­a­ture checked be­fore they en­ter as a pre­cau­tion against the coron­avirus, the city’s elec­tion direc­tor said Fri­day.

Vot­ers who reg­is­ter a high tem­per­a­ture still must be al­lowed to vote, but they will be es­corted to a lo­ca­tion that is seg­re­gated from other vot­ers as a pre­cau­tion, said Arm­stead Jones, Bal­ti­more’s elec­tion direc­tor.

“In some cases, that’s the park­ing lot,” Jones said of the ac­com­mo­da­tions.

State elec­tion of­fi­cials have left it up to each of Mary­land’s county elec­tion of­fices to de­cide what kinds of health safety mea­sures to im­ple­ment at their vot­ing cen­ters dur­ing the pan­demic, said Davis Gar­reis, head of the Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Elec­tion Of­fi­cials. Anne Arun­del County, where Gar­reis is deputy direc­tor, will only check the tem­per­a­tures of staff and elec­tion judges.

Har­ford County also will check elec­tion judges’ tem­per­a­tures. Car­roll County will not take tem­per­a­ture read­ings of any of­fi­cials or vot­ers, elec­tion direc­tor Kather­ine Berry said. Of­fi­cials in Bal­ti­more County and Howard County could not be reached Fri­day for com­ment.

While vot­ers have the op­tion of vot­ing in per­son this fall, state and lo­cal of­fi­cials are en­cour­ag­ing the use of mail-in bal­lots, which can be re­turned via mail or in bal­lot drop boxes.

Nearly 1.6 mil­lion Mary­lan­ders have re­quested mail-in bal­lots, and about a third were re­turned by Fri­day.

Vot­ers still can re­quest a mail-in bal­lot, al­though the dead­line is ap­proach­ing. Ap­pli­ca­tions must be re­ceived by a voter’s lo­cal elec­tions of­fice by Tues­day.

Tem­per­a­ture checks have be­come an in­creas­ingly com­mon part of the pan­demic land­scape, al­though their use is con­tro­ver­sial for elec­tion pur­poses.

Some vot­ers were tem­per­a­ture screened in Michi­gan dur­ing that state’s pri­mary, and images from early vot­ing in Bos­ton in late Au­gust showed vot­ers be­ing scanned with no-con­tact ther­mome­ters as they en­tered a polling place.

In June, how­ever, state of­fi­cials in Texas is­sued a warn­ing to elec­tion clerks say­ing they are barred from do­ing tem­per­a­ture checks by a pro­vi­sion in the state elec­tion code that for­bids ask­ing about a voter’s health his­tory.

The U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion has is­sued elec­tion guide­lines to min­i­mize the spread of coron­avirus dur­ing the Novem­ber elec­tion. The rec­om­men­da­tions do not men­tion tak­ing vot­ers’ tem­per­a­tures.

Jones said he an­tic­i­pates some push­back from vot­ers who may feel like they are be­ing dis­en­fran­chised if they are asked to vote in a dif­fer­ent area of a vot­ing cen­ter. He said elec­tion judges are be­ing trained to han­dle those sit­u­a­tions, he said.

“You’re go­ing to get those folks who are go­ing to raise hell,” he said. “It’s not fair for them to come in in­fect every­body.”

Judges will be re­quired to have their tem­per­a­tures checked when they ar­rive, Jones noted. Any­one of them with a fever will be sent home.

Bal­ti­more of­fi­cials have or­dered about 40 ther­mome­ters for the checks, Jones said. The city will of­fer 24 Elec­tion Day vot­ing cen­ters on Nov. 3 and eight early vot­ing cen­ters from Oct. 26 through Nov. 2.

The science be­hind us­ing tem­per­a­ture screen­ings to pre­vent the spread of COVID-19 has also been ques­tioned. Un­like some in­fec­tious dis­eases, coron­avirus is con­ta­gious be­fore symp­toms may ap­pear. While fever is a com­mon symp­tom of the virus, many peo­ple who have the dis­ease never de­velop symp­toms. Some doc­tors ar­gue that set­ting up tem­per­a­ture check sta­tions to en­ter build­ings gives peo­ple a false sense of se­cu­rity.

Leana Wen, an emer­gency physi­cian and pub­lic health pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity, said fever is such a late-de­vel­op­ing symp­tom of coron­avirus that tem­per­a­ture screen­ings are an in­ef­fec­tive way to iden­tify vot­ers who may be con­ta­gious.

Wen in­stead rec­om­mended max­i­miz­ing the time vot­ers spend out­doors, re­quir­ing masks, and man­dat­ing and en­forc­ing so­cial dis­tanc­ing as peo­ple wait in lines.

Masks will be re­quired in­side Bal­ti­more’s vot­ing cen­ters, and so­cial dis­tanc­ing will be re­quired both in­doors and out­side. Also, Jones said, all sur­faces will be san­i­tized af­ter each use, and hand san­i­tizer will be avail­able for vot­ers as they en­ter and exit vot­ing cen­ters.

Asked if a voter’s pri­vacy could be vi­o­lated if they were di­rected to vote in a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion, Wen noted the coun­try re­mains in a pub­lic health emer­gency.

“It’s very dif­fi­cult to bal­ance the need to have peo­ple ful­fill their con­sti­tu­tional duty to vote dur­ing a time of a pan­demic,” she said. “This is what needs to be done.”

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