Want to vote in-person in California this year? You will not be turned away from the polls if you are not wearing a mask, according to official state election guidelines.
For being one of 33 states that mandate mask-wearing in public, this decision comes as a shocker. California is the most populous state in the country and should be setting an example for how to conduct in-person elections in the midst of a pandemic.
Not requiring masks for in-person voting only shows that those who deny science have won, which is dangerous to those of us who would like to stay healthy and want to reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus. The mask mandate should continue to stay-in-place for Californians, even for voting.
Most states that currently have a mask order in place are opting not to require masks for voting. That is a scary prospect to hear, especially for poll workers. I served as a poll worker during the 2018 midterm elections and the presidential primary earlier this year, and it can get extremely crowded. We have already seen hours-long lines at polling stations across the U.S.
In its official election guidance document, the office of California Secretary of State Alex Padilla makes it clear that the right to vote trumps the mask order, saying “Election workers must not turn a voter away for a lack of face-covering. The right to vote takes precedence.” Masks will be provided for those who do not have one, but giving anti-maskers the go-ahead to not wear a mask only plays into the myth that not wearing one is a “right.”
Ever since the pandemic started, false claims that masks are ineffective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and encouragement to defy mask orders, have swarmed social media, including multiple claims by President Trump. The Californian government is attempting to save lives with their mask mandates, yet certain people turn it into a conspiracy theory of how the government is trying to take over our lives and establish tyrannical rule. I even once saw a lady walking around my local grocery store, maskless (despite a big sign outside saying masks required) with a shirt that said, “It was never quarantine, just tyranny.”
One of my community college professors, when talking about rights, said something that really resonated with me. When your “right to X” infringes on someone else’s “right to Y,” that is no longer your right. Why should that not apply here? Are you not infringing on another’s right to life, threatening or putting the lives of others at risk, because of your “right” to not wear a mask in order to exercise your right to vote? Why is the state giving anti-maskers the power to claim they have won? I completely understand not wanting to infringe on the right to vote, but at some point we have to realize that putting aside safety to guarantee the right to vote is a dangerous thing.
I work in a grocery store in a heavily Republican district, filled with anti-maskers. Even some of my co-workers are anti-maskers. The number of people who are constantly complaining about wearing masks and spreading bogus conspiracy theories while shopping is astonishing. They wear their masks anyway. Why? Because they are required to, and despite their heavily anti-mask belief, they understand the requirement.
Why should voting be any different? If anti-maskers are willing to wear their masks to get the necessity of grocery shopping done, why would they not do the same for voting? If people would much rather not wear a mask than vote, so be it. That is their choice. The state should not have to appeal to them by not requiring masks to vote.
For those who are so adamant about not wearing masks, and do not have a pre-existing condition, you should take advantage of the alternative voting methods put in place in California: vote-by-mail, or dropping off your vote-by-mail ballot in a dropbox. It is ridiculous to ask poll workers to accommodate you because you cannot wear a mask when there are at least two alternatives freely available.
The health, safety and well-being of the American people are much more important than not wanting to wear a mask. Not mandating masks in polling places is a loss for the state of California, and in the unfortunate event that someone is to contract coronavirus from a polling place, the state government should be held fully responsible.
Moh Samhouri is an Opinion Intern for the 2020 fall quarter. He can be reached at email@example.com.