GOSHEN — Moving forward, heading into Election Day, Elkhart County poll workers will be required to wear face masks at vote centers, and voters will be urged to wear their masks as well.
The Elkhart County Election Board approved the two issues during their meeting Wednesday night.
For voters, now that early in-person voting began Tuesday, the decision doesn’t require residents to wear masks as they vote at polling locations, and they won’t be turned away. What the board did was adopt a recommendation by the Indiana Secretary of State on addressing the issue.
Christopher Anderson, the county clerk, said the recommendation calls for urging voters to wear face masks while in vote centers and offering masks to those who aren’t wearing one. If a voter refuses, the recommendation calls for having a voting machine that’s set aside and kept more socially distant from the other machines. He also said he has a supply of more than 30,000 face masks available to provide voters if they consent to wearing one.
Anderson pointed out the state still has a mandate in place ordering the use of face masks in public places, and that the Elkhart County Health Department’s mask mandate is also still in effect. And while some vote centers are set up in typically private places such as churches, their status changes for the elections.
“On Election Day they become public spaces because they are no longer a church, they are a polling location,” Anderson said.
Wayne Kramer, the Republican member of the board, indicated that so far in the first two days of early voting, mask usage hasn’t been much of an issue at the polling place in First Presbyterian Church in downtown Goshen. He said he knew of one instance where a person out of approximately 800 voters went in without a mask and voted normally.
“It looks to me like there’s voluntary compliance — it’s pretty strong,” Kramer said.
The election board, though, can take a tougher stance on employees who refuse to wear masks while working at polling places from now through Election Day on Nov. 3. Anderson said that in addition to the state and local mandates, Elkhart County has a policy requiring masks for employees when they’re outside of personal work spaces.
He also pointed out the board has received a lot of feedback from residents in support of a face mask requirement for poll workers.
“It is recognized that we have received numerous, numerous, numerous emails from members of the community, registered voters in the community, requesting that the election board give due consideration to requiring poll workers to wear face coverings,” Anderson said. “The election board has the authority to remove any poll worker from any voting location for cause. With this and the governor’s executive order, the health department’s executive order, and the fact that polls workers are employees of Elkhart County, and the policy of Elkhart County, that is enough cause for the election board to remove that poll worker.”
Kramer noted the procedure in the case of masks would be the same as steps the board has taken in the past regarding problems with poll workers. He described a basic scenario where a vote center supervisor would call the board with an issue; board members would go to resolve the situation, potentially removing a worker for cause; and if necessary, police could be involved.
“Hopefully people will understand this is the way it’s going to be: Either get with the program or don’t show up on Election Day,” Daniel Grimes, the board’s Democratic member, said of the mask requirement for poll workers.
Anderson noted during the meeting that 1,633 people have voted early in person at the open vote centers in Goshen and Elkhart since early voting started Tuesday morning.
He also said that of the 11,550 ballots he mailed out to voters, his office has officially received 4,034 plus about another 108 after emailing those voters. He anticipated checking in another approximately 1,500 ballots, waiting their turns in about five boxes the office received from the U.S. Postal Service since Monday.
In another issue, Anderson said two candidates on the ballot for Elkhart Community School board are no longer in the running for their seats.
He explained that Rodney Dale, who sought an at-large seat, moved out of the school system’s district in September, which disqualified him. And then, he heard a report that Danny Brown, a candidate for the board’s District D seat, announced Tuesday he’s backing out. Anderson noted he hasn’t received official notification of Brown’s withdrawal.
But the two names will remain on the ballot since both candidates did not formally withdrawal by the state’s deadline of Aug. 24.