A campaign group has said that fights broke out at polling stations across the U.K. as immunocompromised people were told to disconnect face masks or risk mislaying their vote.
New voter I.D. laws rolled out across the country before the 4 May local elections saw voters required to bring a photo I.D. to vote and show their face to match their I.D.
But immunosuppressed people who sport face masks in public places were port out in the cold after the new rules expressed they must remove their covers in polling stations.
“We noticed this was going to happen,” said Mark Oakley, the co-initiator of the patient crusade group Evusheld. “We’ve had people on the group saying, ‘, Well, I’m just not going to go and vote’. There’s a group of people you can count who will not go out and vote because of this.
“We know from another object on Twitter and from other people who have gone there and had to quarrel, and staff in the polling stations have relented, and other people have been turned away. So it has affected people.”
Conflict Over Masks at Local Polling Stations
Several immunosuppressed Twitter users shared their experiences at the survey booth, with one writing: “Not allowed to vote once inside, despite bringing I.D. & video of me putting on a mask, as no options for sensible adjustments for those who are #immunosuppressed. Recorded as turned away with reason: no guidance for those with Disability.”
She was impressed when Elizabeth Cooper walked into her neighbourhood community centre in central Houston to cast her ballot.
Each poll worker sat at an individual table, spaced far apart and shielded by plexiglass. One-handed Cooper a wipe and a finger covering. Most important, she said of her experience, “Everyone had a mask on.”
Mask Controversy Plagues Local Elections
Not so in the West Texas town of Big Spring on the day Rebecca Paige Evers voted at the county courthouse. She said she and her husband were the only ones masked.
“Honestly, it just did not feel like a safe environment to vote,” Evers said.
A voter’s personal experience casting a ballot has long been shaped by decisions of local elections officials, who control many of the ground rules and allocate resources for voting operations. As historic numbers of Americans cast early ballots for the 2020 presidential election in the middle of a centenary’s worst public health crisis, they also encounter disparate policies on masks.
The issue of wearing masks, particularly indoors, where public health officials have said they are crucial to reducing coronavirus transmissions, adds another flash point to arguments about balancing individual rights and safeguarding public health.
Elections officials are used to dealing with emergencies such as bomb scares or power outages, said Charles Stewart III, director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. What’s different about this emergency is its national scale and how precautions — particularly masks — have become politicized. He said, in this case, “Some people are willing to take emergency measures, and others aren’t.”
Quarrel Over Masks Takes Center Stage at Polling Stations
For Mi Familia Vota, a national advocacy group that organizes Latino voters, pressuring states and localities to require mask-wearing at the polls is a top priority, said Héctor Sánchez Barba, executive director and CEO.
“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,” Sánchez Barba said.
In July, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered locals to wear face coverings in most public places. But he exempted polling stations, as did other states with such mandates, including Michigan and Wisconsin.
Mi Familia Vota and the Texas NAACP sued Abbott over the order, contending it put Black and Latino voters, whose communities have been hit hard by the virus, at a disadvantage as they weighed going into polling places.
The groups won a brief victory when a federal judge ruled in their favour and said masks should be required at polling stations. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit last week overruled the lower court, making masks again optional at Texas polls, as Abbott’s order had laid out.