Poll workers in a Missouri county told to 'act surprised' and put on mask if asked about it

Poll workers in a Missouri county were urged in an email this week to “act surprised” if voters ask them why they are not wearing a face mask during the upcoming November elections.  

The Wednesday email from the St. Charles County Election Authority said workers will not be required to wear a face mask or covering on Nov. 3. However, they will be mandated to keep one nearby and wear it upon voter requests. 

“You may act surprised that you don’t have a face mask on properly and then apologize as you put the mask on,” the Wednesday email said. “Wear your mask correctly until the voter leaves the polling place. Please do this every time a voter says something to you.” 

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County Director of Elections Kurt Bahr told The Hill that the email was “poorly worded.” He noted that the email communicated a stricter mask policy for poll workers than in previous elections, in which workers were only encouraged to wear masks or face coverings.

“For this election, we are making a partial mandate in that we communicated to our (poll workers) that even if they’re not going to wear a mask all day long, they need to have one with them and that if a voter asks them to put it on, then they need to go ahead and put it on, and then keep it on for the duration of the time that that voters in the polling place,” Bahr said. 

“The phrase ‘act surprised’ was supposed to forestall debate between (poll workers) and voters as to whether or not they need to have a mask or the efficacy of masks. It was meant to communicate ‘just put it on, move forward, assist the voter and don’t go down the road of a debate,'” he continued.

Bahr added that “that phrase obviously was construed in a negative light and that people have taken to mean that our office does not care about mask-wearing, which is not the case.” 

Poll workers in the county will be given masks and will be behind plexiglass on Election Day. Neither St. Charles County nor the state of Missouri requires masks or face coverings in public. 

Bahr said another email will be sent to poll workers to clarify the county election authority’s mask policy. 

The county has confirmed 6,976 COVID-19 cases as of Thursday. It has also reported 123 total fatalities, more than all other jurisdictions in the state except for the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County.