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Here's Why Masks Aren't Required At The Polls

David J. Phillip
Associated Press
A woman wears a mask while voting June 29 in Houston.

Friday is the last day of early voting in the primary runoff election. And while face masks are in wide use at the polls, Gov. Greg Abbott isn’t requiring them. It’s one of the exceptions to his executive order to wear masks in public places

Heider Garcia, election administrator in Tarrant County, said the exception is consistent with current election law. 

“Mandating using masks [for] voters could be the equivalent of imposing new requirements, right? And the law’s pretty clear: if you’re 18, you’re a citizen, and you’re registered, you get to vote,” he said. “No one can say you can’t because you don’t have a mask.”

Many voters are wearing masks anyway. 

The main reason to wear a mask, however, is to protect other people. A maskless voter puts others at risk, because COVID-19 is very infectious and people with the virus often show no symptoms.

Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, thought state officials could have landed on a compromise in their guidance for voters and election administrators.

“You could suggest that the polling places provide those voters with a mask, to protect the other people in that polling place,” she said.

In the end, a potential mask mandate for voting may be an issue for the Texas Legislature to take up.

“Do we want to craft an exception here, and say [in a] health emergency, then you do have certain authority to mandate things?” Garcia said. “I don’t know. We’ll see.”

The primary runoff is a much smaller affair than November’s general election. We’ll be talking about masks for many months to come. 

Bret Jaspers is a reporter for KERA. His stories have aired nationally on the BBC, NPR’s newsmagazines, and APM’s Marketplace. He collaborated on the series Cash Flows, which won a 2020 Sigma Delta Chi award for Radio Investigative Reporting. He's a member of Actors' Equity, the professional stage actors union.