Voters will not be required to wear a mask if they decide to enter a polling place to cast a ballot, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Friday.
The move came in a new executive order from the governor and less than three weeks before the Aug. 4 primary election. The order includes voting in person on a list of activities where a facial covering is strongly encouraged but not mandated.
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On Thursday, Whitmer told the Detroit Free Press editorial board that her administration was weighing what to do about masks at polling places, but voters who did not wear a mask would not be turned away from a polling place.
Whitmer and others have alluded to questions of the legality of preventing someone from voting.
“We want to encourage and enforce masking up, but we certainly recognize the inherent right to go in and cast your ballot,” the governor said Thursday.
The new executive order still requires people to wear a mask in most indoor public spaces and outside if social distancing is impossible. But it includes an exemption for people “at a polling place for purposes of voting in an election.”
In a statement Friday, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said she supported the governor’s decision.
“The executive order is right to strongly encourage all voters to wear masks while in polling places to protect the health of all while recognizing that no one will be denied their right to vote,” Benson said.
“The Bureau of Elections is working with election clerks statewide to ensure in-person voting will be safe for all election workers and voters. We will among other things be providing personal protective equipment to all election workers, who may also have extra masks available for voters who arrive without one.”
All election workers will be wearing masks, Benson spokeswoman Tracy Wimmer said.
Voters in Michigan are required to present a photo identification or to sign an affidavit if they cast a ballot in person. In theory, a voter may not want to lower his or her mask for a clerk to check the photo ID.
“Clerks have been instructed that a voter may be asked to briefly lower their mask during the ID check, but in most instances this will not be necessary,” Wimmer said.
The governor, Benson and elections officials around the state are encouraging Michigan voters to use absentee ballots this year. Health officials have cautioned that millions of people going to the polls on Election Day could exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19.
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In 2018, Michigan voters approved a measure that allows anyone to apply for an absentee ballot without citing a reason. As of earlier this week, Benson’s office said nearly 1.7 million ballots had been sent to voters who’ve submitted applications.
Although President Donald Trump and others have suggested voting by mail may lead to increases in voter fraud, there is little evidence to support this claim.