Priscilla Keen says she had no problem wearing a mask inside the voting center at the Cameron Park Community Services District building in El Dorado County.
“I work in medic[ine], so I wear this all the time,” she said, adding that her everyday mask is more comfortable than the one she wears on the job.
But not everyone is able, or willing, to wear a mask. Some voters may have a health condition that makes it difficult. Others simply refuse.
Earlier this year, Secretary of State Alex Padilla issued guidance to county election officials that maskless voters could not be turned away at voting centers. His office recommended additional physical distancing, and discouraged confrontation — in part because “intense conversation and shouting increase the volume of exhalations and may increase risk” of COVID-19 transmission.
However, Padilla did not prescribe specific instructions on how to accommodate maskless voters — leaving counties to come up with their own solutions.
“[The] guidelines are intended to maintain the safety of voters and poll workers, while providing counties the flexibility to implement logistical solutions that make sense for them,” said Sam Mahood, press secretary for Padilla.
Many vote centers offer disposable masks or face shields. Failing that, solutions vary.
El Dorado County is using outdoor voting booths for the first time in order to accommodate maskless voters.
“What we’re trying to do is walk this thin line of treating them differently without appearing to treat them differently,” said county registrar of voters Bill O’Neill.
At the Fire Station 85 voting center in El Dorado Hills, election inspector Tom Fennell says a few people have opted to use the outdoor booth during early voting, after declining to use a disposable mask.
He said they were receptive to the solution.
“There are some new rules, some things you’re not used to, questions you might have,” Fennell said. “We’re here to help you.”
Placer and Imperial counties will ask voters without a mask to wait outside until a secluded booth inside becomes available, which are cleaned afterward.
Napa County is using curbside voting to accommodate people who aren’t wearing a mask, or who display any symptoms of COVID-19. County registrar John Tuteur says the county has relied on curbside voting in the past.
At least one county — Lassen — says it won’t require a special procedure for maskless voters.
“My employees and poll workers [wear] masks, and we have Plexiglass dividers on our tables and counters,” said Lassen County Clerk-Recorder Julie Bustamante. “We do not turn any voter away.”
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