Tampa Bay area election officials won't turn voters away over not wearing masks

Posted at 2:33 PM, Sep 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-25 09:50:33-04

TAMPA, Fla.—Election officials across the Tampa Bay Area encourage voters to follow CDC guidelines and wear masks at polling places during the upcoming election. However, County Supervisor of Elections offices have told ABC Action News they will not turn voters away for not wearing a mask.

The CDC recommends that people wear masks in public settings around people who they don’t live with and when they can’t socially distance six feet apart from others. The CDC states, “Masks help stop the spread of COVID-19 to others.”

ABC Action News reached out to county Supervisor of Elections offices in the Bay Area about masks in polling places.

“I think the most important thing to know right now is that we have already conducted an election where there was a mask ordinance,” said Pinellas County Deputy Supervisor of Elections Dustin Chase. “We didn’t hear any complaints or problems at our polling places, so we’ll take that as a win.”

Chase said voters should know that there is a mask ordinance, but they also have a constitutional right to cast a ballot. He says people have been very amenable to wearing masks at polling places, and he says people understand there’s a county ordinance, and in order to stay safe and help flatten the curve, they should wear one.

“We have plenty of masks, so if people come to our polling places who aren’t wearing a mask and they would like to wear one, we’ll have masks available for those people,” said Chase. “If they choose not to wear a mask, maybe they have a medical condition, then they will still be eligible to vote.”

Local election officials have also said they’ve been advised a person’s constitutional right to vote supersedes a county directive. Louis Virelli, a law professor at Stetson University College of Law, says in his view, he thinks it would not be unconstitutional to require masks to be worn while voting, but he says that doesn’t mean election officials are interested in having that fight. He says generally Supervisors of Elections want people to vote, so they’re going to try to make that happen.

“I think it’s important to point out that Supervisors of Elections don’t want to be in a position where they’re even having that conversation, so they’re going to do whatever they can to make this election inclusive, and by all accounts, it will be, and our elections have been inclusive and well run,” said Virelli.

Here is a list of other county Supervisor of Elections Office responses to mask wearing at polling places:

  • Citrus County officials say they will require election workers to wear a face covering, but cannot tell people they can’t vote because of masks. They recommend people follow CDC guidelines.
  • Hernando County officials respectfully ask voters to wear a mask to help protect election workers, but say no voter will be turned away for not wearing one. They will have some masks in case a voter needs one.
  • Highlands County officials say they will never turn a voter away. They will have hand sanitizer and disposable pens to be as contactless as possible, and they ask people to follow CDC guidelines.
  • Hillsborough County officials encourage all voters to comply with the county mask ordinance and will require poll workers to wear masks at all times. Poll workers will have extra masks on hand, but no one will be denied the right to vote.
  • Manatee County Supervisor of Elections officials said they will ask every voter to wear a mask while in a polling place. They will have free disposable masks for anyone who doesn't bring one, and any voter who is unable or refuses to wear a mask will be required to keep the maximum distance possible from anyone in the room, but at least six feet apart.
  • Pasco County officials will provide masks at early voting locations as well as election day polling places for those voters who require them. While they encourage all voters to be safe and considerate of others, they say they cannot prevent someone from voting who refuses to wear a mask.
  • Polk County officials encourage voters to wear masks and say almost all voters do. Election workers will be wearing masks and enforcing social distancing within polling locations, but they do not believe a voter can be denied the right to vote if they refuse to wear a face covering.
  • Sarasota County officials say they will require face coverings for poll workers and staff, routinely sanitize surfaces and equipment, and social distance voting booths and voter check-in stations. They say voters are encouraged to use face coverings and practice social distancing; they are not required to wear a mask for voting, but are encouraged to do so.