Published May 29. 2020 02:45PM
Voters in Schuylkill County will be strongly encouraged to wear masks when they go to the polls next Tuesday.
But the county can’t legally prevent someone from voting if they choose to not wear a mask, officials said during a meeting of the county election board on Wednesday.
“We’re making a strong recommendation that people wear them for the protection of the poll workers and the people coming in, but if people refuse, we don’t want to turn away the voter,” said Commissioner Gary Hess, chairman of the county election board.
The coronavirus has caused the county to temporarily move about eight polling places for primary day, consolidating some.
Officials say they’re taking steps to keep voters and election workers safe.
Hess said polling places will be set up so voters stay 6 feet apart while waiting to cast their ballot. Election workers will be cleaning surfaces inside the polling place throughout the day, and will be provided with PPE. When voters arrive, there will be extra masks and gloves available if they want them, said Commissioner Barron Hetherington.
“We can’t make them wear it but we’ll offer it. If you happen to be coming to the polls and don’t have one, there will be extra ones available,” Hetherington said.
The county has hired a contractor to clean the polling places after the election is over.
While the state and county are strongly encouraging voters to wear masks, a lawyer for the county said they have no legal authority to force someone to wear a mask.
“I would still strongly recommend that the board recommend wearing masks for any elector. For everybody’s safety,” Assistant County Solicitor Christopher Hoff said.
The county also encouraged as many people as possible to sign up for vote by mail by the deadline, which was Tuesday. Vote by mail ballots must be returned to the election bureau by 8 p.m. on primary day.
More than 13,500 people applied to vote by mail, and as of Wednesday, about half of the ballots have been submitted.
Election officials will meet at 1 p.m. on Election Day to begin counting the vote by mail and absentee ballots, but those results won’t be announced until the polls close at 8 p.m.
They include Rush Township’s three precincts, which will be relocated to Hometown Fire Co., and Tamaqua’s Third Precinct, which will be located at Tamaqua Borough Hall. All other Tamaqua-area polling places will remain the same. Full polling place information is also available on the county website, co.schuylkill.pa.us.
The election board hasn’t decided whether the polling places will remain the same in the general election or if voters will return to the polling places they used for previous elections.
During Wednesday’s commissioners’ meeting, Hess’ colleagues praised him for helping the county prepare for an election where there will be new voting machines, some location changes, and new election workers.
Hess said the credit goes to the election workers who will be working 13 hours on primary day.
“We cannot have a successful election without them. It’s a team effort. Everyone has worked tirelessly to make this the best it can be,” he said.