A county clerk in rural Indiana says she will not wear a mask while overseeing early voting despite the county’s surge of coronavirus cases and warnings from a state official.
Fountain County Clerk Paula Copenhaver said she will “not be part of the government overreach” and contends social distancing and hand sanitizer are enough.
Spokeswoman Valerie Warycha confirmed Friday that Secretary of State Connie Lawson contacted Copenhaver to ask her to wear a mask.
The hottest spot in the state for COVID-19 last week was Fountain County, according to the Indiana State Department of Health’s color-coded pandemic metrics map. The rural county of 16,346 people in west-central Indiana racked up 532 weekly cases per 100,000 residents, and had a seven-day rolling positivity rate of 18.5%. It was the only one of Indiana’s 92 counties to get a “red” score.
Lawson also wrote in an email on Friday to clerks and election officials in all 92 Indiana counties that if poll workers refuse to wear masks or other protection, clerks should thank them for their service “and ask that they voluntarily resign.”
Lawson did not mention any clerks or counties by name in her email, and she did not issue any mandates. State elected officials do not have the authority to do that, Warycha said.
Lawson said the election is “the time to be careful, not cavalier,” and that clerks needed to put public health before personal preference, the Journal & Courier reported.
“As election officials, we have a duty to each and every voter. We cannot force voters to comply with mask protocol, but we can ensure that all poll workers set a good example,” she said.
Lawson put the possibility of COVID-19 clusters at polling places squarely on the head of county clerks who are choosing not to follow Gov. Eric Holcomb’s mask order.
“There is great risk in allowing poll workers to flaunt health recommendations,” Lawson wrote. “If an outbreak occurs and contact tracing leads back to a county polling location where the clerk did not require the use of PPE, that will quickly become a major issue. In that scenario, the responsibility falls on you and your county–not the state.”
Lawson did not offer options for voters who felt unsafe going into a polling place where poll workers weren’t wearing masks, but Warycha said that voters who are concerned “should contact their clerk and devise a plan that will allow them to vote in a socially distanced manner from a clerk who will not wear a mask.”
Warycha did not indicate which counties are not following mask rules.