Unmasked voters will not be allowed into polling places during next month’s non-partisan municipal elections and June’s primaries, Gov. Phil Murphy said.
“I think if you refuse to wear a mask, we’re not letting you in. It’s that simple,” Murphy said at Wednesday’s virus briefing. “You’ve got to wear a mask if you’re going into a store, going into a restaurant. You’ve got to wear one going to the Motor Vehicles Commission, wherever you’re going, if you’re indoors you’ve got to wear a mask.”
If the policy has any effect, it’s likely to disproportionately impact Republican voters. Though the feeling isn’t universal, leaders in the party, most notably former President Donald Trump, have derided masking.
But Murphy’s stance is nothing new. The policy was in place during last year’s elections and special school board and fire district elections held earlier this month.
It’s not clear whether the return of in-person machine voting will change that. Last year’s races were held almost entirely using mail-in ballots, with a small number of voters casting paper provisional ballots in-person.
More voters are expected to cast ballots at a polling place this year despite an expected decline in overall turnout as compared to last year’s presidential elections.
The issue could be avoided altogether with changes to the state’s indoor mask mandate, but the governor suggested such alterations were still months away.
“I don’t expect our indoor masking guidelines will change,” he said. “They’re certainly not going to change between now and the May 20th election, I would guess, and unlikely to change before June 8th.”
The governor indicated he would not require poll workers to be vaccinated.
“I don’t expect that we will require poll workers to be vaccinated but strongly, strongly, strongly encouraged,” he said.
Last year, the state had to tap the New Jersey National Guard to make up for a shortage of poll workers. Such individuals are typically elderly and thus more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Requiring them to be vaccinated would likely cause headaches. State law requires an even partisan split of poll workers, and according to a Monmouth University poll released earlier this month, Republicans are far likelier to want to avoid the vaccine.
Just 5% of Democrats said they would never get the vaccine, compared to 43% of Republicans and 22% of independents.
“It’s difficult to see how that would survive any challenge from voters whose most basic rights would be violated. I hope he intends to spell out how someone gets their vote counted in that instance,” said Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “He really loses the considerable high ground on which to complain about voter suppression.”
Rasmussen said Murphy’s motives might be pure, but that his policy is off.
“Of course people need to follow the CDC guidelines, and of course there’s far too much political resistance to that. Students’ parents are still dying of this terrible virus, and I know Governor Murphy is absolutely, positively committed to honoring their lives by protecting ours. But none of it justifies preventing a citizen from exercising the most basic right to vote,” stated Rasmussen. “In fact, it probably just gives fodder to more dumb resistance to public health measures, which ends up hurting, not helping.”