Can “Un-Masked” Voters Be Turned Away At The Polls?


Florida elections officials in counties with mask mandates are deciding how they will handle it if a voter tries to cast a ballot in person, but refuses to wear a face covering.

CBS12 News found varying policies among counties in South Florida and the Treasure Coast.

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Link plans to enforce the county’s mask mandate.

She told the Sun-Sentinel, that she will require voters to wear face coverings at the poll unless they cite an exemption under the county ordinance.

Link later gave CBS12 News more detail, saying no voters would be turned away, but poll workers will be asking people to follow the county rules.

Supervisors in Martin and Indian River County said masks will be strongly encouraged, but not required at the polls.

“I can’t turn a voter away because they don’t have a mask on,” said Indian River Supervisor of Elections Leslie Rossway Swan.

Indian River County has a mask mandate for public places.

Martin County has a mask mandate, but according to Supervisor Vicki Davis, county commissioners included an exception for polling places in the most recent iteration of the face covering order.

“You don’t want to disenfranchise anyone coming in,” said Davis. “There are some individuals who elect not to, and some who may have a medical condition that doesn’t really allow them to wear a mask.”

She said masks will be available for voters who want to wear a face covering, and there will be enhanced cleaning measures to reduce COVID risk.

A spokesperson in Okeechobee County said masks will be provided, but not required.

If elections officials wanted to enforce mask rules, Professor of Law Caroline Mala Corbin from the University of Miami School of Law, said they could.

“There is no question that the right to vote is protected, but no constitutional right is absolute,” Professor Mala Corbin said.

She pointed to Voter ID rules as an example of a way government already adds requirements to vote in some states.

She said the courts give government more consideration to regulate during a public health crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s also about the rights of other people at the polling place,” she said. “Because refusing to wear a mask endanger them, and jeopardizes their right to vote.”

A Palm Beach County judge recently ruled that the county’s mask mandate is constitutional and in the interest of public health when several plaintiffs tried to challenge it.

One of the attorneys who challenged the mask mandate, Cory Strolla, told CBS12 News that turning a voter away due to a lack of face covering invites more lawsuits.

“I think it could definitely land in some legal hot water,” Strolla said.

He worries that poll workers won’t be educated about the mask ordinance exemptions, and could unfairly turn some voters away.

“It’s the people that don’t even know these exemptions exist, and are lawful, that’s really what I’m worried about in this upcoming 2020 election,” he said.