Elections chief urges but won’t require masks for Ohio vote


By Julie Carr Smyth - Associated Press



COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Health and safety guidelines that Ohio’s elections chief sent to county boards Wednesday recommend, but do not mandate, mask-wearing and other preventive measures for those voting in person this fall, a nod to voter freedoms in a closely divided battleground state.

In a Statehouse news conference designed to reassure voters about the safety of casting their vote, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said nothing — including the coronavirus and skepticism about mail-in voting that’s been stoked by President Donald Trump, a fellow Republican — will stop the election and that it will be safe and secure.

“There absolutely will be in-person voting on Nov. 3,” LaRose said.

LaRose said he is strongly recommending masks for in-person voters to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but that any requirement would step on people’s right to vote. He said those voters who choose not to wear a mask will be given options, including voting outside or using the curbside option. But he said anyone who wants to vote inside in person, even without a mask, will be allowed to do so.

Another of his recommendations is to ignore a legal provision that allows requesting an absentee ballot up to the weekend before Election Day and to request a ballot no later than Oct. 27, a week before Election Day. He repeated his longstanding position that the legal deadline of three days before the vote doesn’t give ample time for the U.S. Postal Service to turn around mail-in ballots. Lawmakers have so far ignored LaRose’s calls to change the law.

But LaRose emphasized that those concerned — though he argues unjustly — about the safety of absentee voting can take advantage of 28 days of early voting across the state or vote in person.

The mask recommendation was part of a 48-point voting safety plan that LaRose, a Republican, sent to the battleground state’s 88 county boards of elections ahead of the presidential election. All are based on recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While emphasizing the accessibility of voting in Ohio, LaRose’s plan stopped short of expanding the number of drop boxes where Ohioans will be able to hand-deliver their ballots this fall. A single drop box will be available in each county for now, LaRose said, which is in keeping with what he contends he is authorized to provide.

“Candidly, I think this is a question for the General Assembly,” he said. He said adding new drop boxes could risk litigation, which could burden election boards to and confuse voters.

LaRose said 35,000 poll workers are desperately needed in order to open voting locations statewide.

The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 5. Early voting begins Oct. 6.

By Julie Carr Smyth

Associated Press