Mask Usage Only Encouraged, Not Required at Polling Locations on Election Day, Officials Say


Voters in the Commonwealth that arrive at polling places on Election Day without a mask or face covering and refuse to wear one or vote outside will not be turned away, according to election officials.

The Virginia Department of Elections (VDOE) has given election workers throughout Virginia guidance on what to do when a voter goes to a polling precinct without a mask and does not wish to put one on.

“It is not mandatory for a voter to wear a mask in order to vote. If voters do not have a mask, they may be offered one, if there are additional masks on site, or they can be offered the opportunity to vote curbside,” the VDOE said in a statement provided to The Virginia Star. “Ultimately, a voter will not be turned away if they are not wearing a mask, but the department strongly encourages them to do so to keep themselves and others around them safe.”

Election workers at polling locations will have extra masks on hand in case a person accidentally forgets to bring their own or they are fine with wearing one inside while voting.

Additionally, those voters who are wearing masks or face coverings will not be asked to remove them to verify their identity because the photo ID requirement went out of effect in Virginia after July 1 of this year, said Hanover County general registrar Teresa Smithson.

Instead, voters will just need to say their name and address to be checked into the poll book.

Alena Yarmosky, the governor’s spokesperson, in a statement that “Governor Northam expects every person to wear a mask when voting, period. Virginia currently mandates face coverings be worn inside public places, and he takes this order seriously. The right to vote is well-protected in the Constitution, however, and no one can be prevented from voting due to a lack of a mask alone.”

Under current Virginia law, it is unlawful for any election officer at a polling place as well as any other voter or person present to “hinder or delay a qualified voter.”

The penalty for breaking that law is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which can bring punishments of up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Multiple general registrars echoed the guidance from the VDOE and governor.

“Masks are encouraged, but if anyone does not have a mask they will not be turned away,” Anne Marie Middlesworth, Henrico County deputy registrar, said in an interview with The Star. “Some of the things we have suggested to our officers of election are to offer a mask, offer to vote them at curbside and if neither of those [options] are suitable, we will vote them in the polling place in the best way we can to space people apart.”

Middlesworth added: “We are not trying to discourage voters, we don’t want to suppress voters. We want to manage things the best we can.”

Counties might use different procedures for curbside voting, but in Henrico two election officers from different political parties take down a voter’s information, check them into the poll book and then bring a ballot outside in a privacy sleeve to be filled out before immediately being put into the voting machine, Middlesworth said.

That same process applies to a person who does not have a mask and refuses to put one on, but is fine with voting in their car or on the sidewalk.

Unlike other general elections, polling places this year may not be as busy and lines may not be as long as normal because 1.6 million Virginians have already cast their ballots in-person or by mail, according to early voting numbers from the Virginia Public Access Project.

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Jacob Taylor is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Follow Jacob on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]








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