Arkansans set on voting in person this year face a grim calculation. Is exercising the right to vote worth getting sick, or even dying for? The State Board of Election Commissioners put out word last week that poll workers can’t turn voters away for not wearing a mask.
“Voters should be encouraged to wear facial coverings at the polls during the Nov. 3 general election, but counties don’t have the authority to curtail access to polling places based on a person’s health screening or refusal to use a mask, the state Board of Election Commissioners is advising officials on the county level,” the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported.
Of course, catering to the anti-science crowd doesn’t really make voting more accessible. The no mask, no problem policy will absolutely curtail access to polling places, but only for the voters unwilling to flout CDC guidelines.
A no-masks-required policy clashes with medical expertise and the statewide mandate Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued on July 20. COVID danger at the polls could scare off would-be voters who miss the October 27 deadline to request an absentee ballot. Voter outreach groups are scrambling to ramp up early this year to let people know about safer options.
And what about the poll workers? Most are older folks, and vulnerable to the worst outcomes of COVID-19. Nationally, many veteran poll workers are already declining to volunteer this year. And recruiting new volunteers is proving more challenging than usual. The threat of high rates of last-minute dropouts looms over the troubled recruitment process. Any poll worker can wear a mask, of course. But wearing a mask protects others more than yourself. The onus of protecting poll workers by masking up falls to members of the public.
The good news is that any Arkansas who wants to vote from home can do it this year. And early voting locations offer the chance to dip in and cast a ballot when lines are short or nonexistent. So what’s your plan?