Masks one more thing vot­ers get to de­cide on this Elec­tion Day

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - MARK BROWN mark­brown@sun­times.com | @MarkBrownC­ST

Chicago elec­tion of­fi­cials plan to “strongly en­cour­age” but will not re­quire vot­ers to wear face masks to their polling places this fall.

They say their de­ci­sion was made in ac­cor­dance with cur­rent COVID-19 guide­lines from the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and the Illi­nois De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health — nei­ther of which man­date the use of face cov­er­ings for vot­ing.

Elec­tion of­fi­cials in sub­ur­ban Cook, DuPage and Lake coun­ties told me they are await­ing up­dated guid­ance from the state be­fore fi­nal­iz­ing their own face mask poli­cies.

But a state­ment Wed­nes­day from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s of­fice gave no in­di­ca­tion he will rec­om­mend any fur­ther re­stric­tions be­fore early vot­ing be­gins in Oc­to­ber.

“Under the gov­er­nor’s ex­ec­u­tive order, face cov­er­ings are re­quired any time a per­son is un­able to main­tain so­cial dis­tance of 6 feet. The ad­min­is­tra­tion en­cour­ages lo­cal elec­tion of­fi­cials to plan for and en­sure as much so­cial dis­tanc­ing as pos­si­ble dur­ing the vot­ing process and also en­cour­ages those vot­ing on elec­tion day to en­sure they use a face cov­er­ing,” said press sec­re­tary Jor­dan Abu­dayyeh.

Please note the op­er­a­tive word is “en­cour­ages” — same as in Chicago elec­tion of­fi­cials’ plans.

It’s the strength of that en­cour­age­ment that could lead to prob­lems.

Although Illi­nois re­quires face cov­er­ings in pub­lic in­door spa­ces, such as gro­cery or drug stores, man­dat­ing their use in the vot­ing booth would raise some sticky le­gal is­sues of pos­si­ble voter sup­pres­sion.

A face mask re­quire­ment could be viewed as cre­at­ing an il­le­gal bar­rier to vot­ing for those who might refuse to wear them — on what­ever grounds.

Elec­tion of­fi­cials through­out the state are urg­ing vot­ers to cast their bal­lots by mail this fall to avoid any po­ten­tial health risks as­so­ci­ated with vot­ing in per­son.

They’re also mak­ing it eas­ier than ever to do so, and while I ap­pre­ci­ate the op­por­tu­nity, I’d rather vote in per­son, prob­a­bly dur­ing early vot­ing.

Some­how, I had as­sumed that would be a less dicey propo­si­tion than it was dur­ing the March pri­mary when we were still in the early stages of deal­ing with the coro­n­avirus and mask-wear­ing had yet to catch on.

But as much as I would pre­fer from a health stand­point see­ing my fel­low vot­ers wear a mask, I can’t re­ally see any way around the le­gal en­tan­gle­ments that would arise from re­quir­ing them to do so.

It was pointed out to me that we don’t al­low vot­ers to come to the polls naked, or in a per­haps more prac­ti­cal ex­am­ple, we don’t per­mit them to wear T-shirts ad­ver­tis­ing which can­di­date they sup­port. If we can do that, why can’t we make them wear a mask dur­ing a pub­lic health cri­sis? That’s the ar­gu­ment.

Un­for­tu­nately, as we know, re­fusal to wear a mask has be­come a po­lit­i­cal state­ment of its own in AS MUCH AS I WOULD PRE­FER FROM A HEALTH STAND­POINT SEE­ING MY FEL­LOW VOT­ERS WEAR A MASK, I CAN’T RE­ALLY SEE ANY WAY AROUND THE LE­GAL EN­TAN­GLE­MENTS THAT WOULD ARISE FROM RE­QUIR­ING THEM TO DO SO. 2020, which some peo­ple would de­fend as stri­dently as the right to vote for the can­di­date of their choice.

Elec­tion of­fi­cials in Chicago, Lake County and DuPage County all say they will re­quire elec­tion judges to wear masks for the fall elec­tion and prom­ise to sup­ply the masks.

The state is also ex­pected to pro­vide lo­cal elec­tion of­fi­cials with masks to be given to vot­ers who need them. I’d say the prob­lems will start if in­di­vid­ual elec­tion judges try to make it a rule. In their de­fense, they will be the ones putting their own health at great­est risk by sit­ting in crowded polling places all day breath­ing in oth­ers’ germs.

“Ob­vi­ously, there must be mask ex­cep­tions for peo­ple who have health is­sues that are so se­ri­ous that wear­ing a mask cre­ates a prob­lem. But we an­tic­i­pate that gen­er­ally, our in-per­son vot­ers will em­brace so­cial dis­tanc­ing and wear­ing masks,” said Marisel A. Her­nan­dez, chair­woman on the Chicago Board of Elec­tion Com­mis­sion­ers.

A new state law makes Elec­tion Day a state hol­i­day in Illi­nois, which elec­tion of­fi­cials be­lieve will al­low them to spread out in schools and other govern­ment fa­cil­i­ties be­ing used as polling places. That should make so­cial dis­tanc­ing eas­ier to ac­com­plish.

Many pri­vately owned build­ings that have tra­di­tion­ally served as polling places have in­sti­tuted mask re­quire­ments dur­ing the pan­demic, which may pre­clude them from host­ing vot­ers this year.

Lake County Clerk Robin O’Con­nor said some pri­vate fa­cil­i­ties sought to go fur­ther and re­quire vot­ers to sub­mit to tem­per­a­ture checks be­fore ad­mit­tance to the build­ing. In­stead, the county will seek al­ter­na­tive vot­ing sites for those locations, O’Con­nor said.

You can cer­tainly see how this could be­come the next great bat­tle­ground in the COVID-19 cul­ture wars.

They tell me that those who are wor­ried about the face mask sit­u­a­tion, one way or an­other, should just vote by mail.

That way you could even vote naked.

SUN-TIMES FILE PHOTO

RUSS DILLING­HAM/SUN JOUR­NAL VIA AP

Elec­tion work­ers and vot­ers wear masks as a pre­cau­tion against the spread of COVID-19 at a polling place dur­ing Maine’s pri­mary elec­tion in July.

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