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Editorial: `Act surprised' if asked about mask-wearing, St. Charles County tells poll workers

Editorial: `Act surprised' if asked about mask-wearing, St. Charles County tells poll workers

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In what must be one of the more cynical instructions ever issued by a public body, the St. Charles County Election Authority sent an email to poll workers instructing them to “act surprised” if voters ask why workers aren’t wearing masks. Only after acting surprised should workers feel obligated put a mask on.

So this is what the bizarre political friction surrounding mask-wearing has led to: a public body instructing its workers to fake out voters about a commitment to protecting public health.

As the Post-Dispatch’s Nassim Benchaabane reports, the authority sent out an email to poll workers Wednesday telling them they wouldn’t be required to wear masks while working the election, but would have to have one available to put on if a voter asks them to. If that happens, the email says, “You may act surprised that you don’t have a face mask on properly and then apologize as you put the mask on. Wear your mask correctly until the voter leaves the polling place. Please do this every time a voter says something to you.”

The policy of not requiring masks unless the voter asks makes mask-wearing sound like some pesky, unnecessary exercise that should only be done to humor those who it might agitate — instead of the demonstrably effective virus-control measure that it actually is. What about the voter who isn’t comfortable confronting a perfect stranger about the lack of a mask, but still doesn’t want to risk illness? And why tell workers in advance to “act surprised” and then apologize, when that calculated instruction makes both reactions intrinsically insincere?

Election Director Kurt Bahr has tried to shrug it off as a matter of botched wording, but it’s actually a botched policy, and it’s not hard to figure out why. St. Charles is a heavily Republican county, and President Donald Trump has managed to make rejection of masks a political litmus test in the party. Trump was at it again Wednesday, contradicting his own director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, about the effectiveness of masks.

With signals like that being picked up by Republican voters, it’s no wonder local GOP officials feel compelled to dance around the issue instead of just requiring that poll workers put masks on and keep them on. While requiring voters to mask up could carry constitutional implications, requiring it of poll workers should be a no-brainer. Poll workers in St. Louis city and county both face such a requirement, sparing them from having to “act” at all.

Instead of telling poll workers to act surprised, St. Charles’ election officials and others in county government should start acting like leaders. The county has seen a recent spike in coronavirus cases, which makes it all the more irresponsible that its officials continue to ignore the science in order to appease political extremists.

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