GOSHEN — A woman reported to election officials Thursday that she was harassed at a vote center while attempting to cast a ballot without wearing a facemask.
Elizabeth Mills, who lives in the Bristol area, said the first harassment came from two people ahead of her in line, who turned around individually and asked her to don a mask. The second incident, according to Mills, occurred as she was casting her vote for president and a poll worker leaned over her shoulder and told her she needed to wear a mask while voting.
“I walked in and nobody said anything at that point,” Mills said of entering the First Presbyterian Church at about 2 p.m. where early voting is occurring each day. “A few of the other people in line told me to put it on and they said, ‘It’s law.’”
She then signed up to obtain her ballot and the poll workers who helped her did not mention the mask issue, Mills said. “They said, ‘OK, you’re good. Go vote.’”
“In the middle of my voting, I was voting for president, and he (a poll worker) came over and he stuck his head over my shoulder, the guy who was monitoring the booth area, and he saw what I was voting at that point. He said, ‘Do you have a mask?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, “Well, I need you to put it on because it is law and you can’t vote unless you have your mask on.”
Mills said poll workers had supplied her with a mask earlier.
Mills said she suffers from asthma and anxiety due to her asthma, and that is why she did not want to wear a mask. However, due to her anxiety, she decided to comply and wear the mask.
“I am an anxious person, and since I had already been confronted twice, I am like, I need to vote. That is why I am here and that is what I am doing.”
Mills added that she felt that if she did not don the mask, “He was going to tell me to leave.”
She finished voting and then walked out and called her husband, Jason, to relate her experience. Jason then called Elkhart County Clerk Chris Anderson.
Anderson said he immediately dropped what he was doing and walked the two blocks to the church to talk with the poll workers. There, he was told by the poll workers they had no knowledge of the confrontation of Mills by other voters or one of the staff.
“I have spoken to my staff and they do remember someone coming in without a mask … As far as what they said, they did not see any, and they were not part of harassing her,” Anderson said.
“But I reiterated to my staff that we cannot force a voter to wear a mask,” Anderson said. “We can say, ‘Would you like a mask? We have them.’ If they refuse then that is the end of the subject right there.”
Last week, the Elkhart County Election Board decided to require poll workers to wear masks and to encourage voters to do so. Anderson said the board’s attorney and the Indiana Secretary of State’s office both have advised the election board that voters do not have to wear masks while voting.
Jason said he voted a couple of days ago without a mask and, “Nobody said a word to me. Obviously, I am a man. I think they picked on my wife because she was a woman and alone.”
Anderson said that since early voting began Oct. 6 only two or three people countywide have voted without wearing a mask.
And there was one man who was turned away for wearing a mask supporting Donald Trump, which was deemed to violate state law against electioneering at polling locations.
“I am not saying she did not feel harassed. I can understand that,” Anderson said. “If we were overzealous in our suggestion to wear a mask, I did cover that with my staff also.
“I have discussed the situation with my staff and told them we are not there to harass people. We are not there to assault people and force them to put on a mask. We can recommend that they do and urge them to do so, but that is as far as we can go.”
The only other mask incident Anderson has heard of may have occurred Tuesday outside the Goshen polling location when a discussion about masks occurred. He said the election staff did not hear about that until after it occurred.
“I have my staff inside processing voters through and we didn’t know anything about it until after the fact,” the clerk said.
As far as Mills’ complaint, “I didn’t know anything and from what I heard from my staff they didn’t recognize anything going on,” Anderson said. “Not saying that it didn’t. I am not saying that if one of my staff say she wear a mask that it was overzealous and overexuberant. And for that I did apologize to Mr. Mills and have him pass that on to his wife. That is not the experience I wanted for her to have when she went to the polls today.”
Asked about her impressions about her voting experience, Mills said, “I was scared. Honestly, I was scared. I did not understand what was happening. I didn’t get it. I was very intimidated. It is not law that I have a mask on to go vote. There is a reason; I have asthma and it is very hard when I am in a mask for a long period of time, and I struggle with anxiety. It was just a lot. It wasn’t what I was expecting.”