Elections Commission: Voters Exempt from Mask Mandate

Neither the governor, nor municipalities, can impose additional requirements on voters--like wearing a mask--according to the state's elections commission.

By Will Kenneally

July 30, 2020

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Milwaukee voters in line

Milwaukee voters waited in line for hours as the city goes from 180 polling sites to five amid the COVID-19 pandemic April 7, 2020.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission clarified Thursday how the governor’s statewide mask order will impact voters in the upcoming August primary election.

The current order, which will end Sept. 28, requires anyone 5 years and older to wear a mask in an enclosed space outside their household.

Under state law however, only the state Legislature can place conditions on who can vote–meaning voters cannot be prevented from voting because they do not follow the governor’s mask mandate.

“It needs to be made clear to everyone–to the clerks, the poll workers and the voters–that when you get there, if there are people without mask on, that is entirely their right,” said Commissioner Dean Knudson, a Republican appointee.

The commission voted unanimously to clarify that voters are not subject to the governor’s mandate while they are voting. They clarified however, that poll workers and election observers still fall under the governor’s requirement.

Under guidance from the elections commission, voters who do not wear masks at polling places can be specially accommodated by poll workers using additional personal protective equipment or voting in specific locations at a polling place.

While the governor’s mask order applies to any enclosed area, it includes certain exceptions for those with medical conditions who may be unable to wear a mask, like those with certain disabilities or who have trouble breathing.

There is also an exception in the mask order for confirming a person’s identity, which voters must do to receive a ballot. The commission approved guidance that most voters will not have to remove their masks to check their IDs, but some may be asked to remove their masks briefly.

The commission ultimately voted to recommend everyone at a polling place wear a mask.

In a commission meeting earlier Thursday, commissioners approved a series of security-related sub grants for counties ahead of the fall election. Counties applied for the federal funds to help them improve elections infrastructure and equipment, as well as to conduct security assessments.

The commission also approved uniform instructions to be sent with absentee ballots to voters, which help guide voters through the process of filling out and returning ballots. The instructions were changed to make them clearer and more concise.

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