Wisconsin voters not required, but strongly encouraged, to wear masks at the polls

The state Elections Commission voted to clarify guidance from the body's staff that was sent to local election officials across the state in the hours after Evers announced his directive, which took effect Saturday.

Masked voters are directed to their ballots by election workers at the Government Center in Superior, April 7. Following a statewide mask mandate, the Wisconsin Elections Commission clarified that voters are not required to wear masks at the polls, but are encouraged to do so. (File / Superior Telegram)

In light of Gov. Tony Evers' statewide order requiring individuals wear face coverings, Wisconsin elections officials are advising local clerks that donning a mask isn't a prerequisite for voters looking to cast a ballot.

Although members of the state's Elections Commission Thursday, July 30 recommended voters wear face coverings, they noted Evers' mandate doesn't apply to them — although poll workers and election observers are required to put on masks.

Members voted 6-0 to clarify guidance from the body's staff that was sent to local election officials across the state in the hours after Evers announced his directive, which took effect Saturday.

Prior to approval, Commissioner Dean Knudson, a Republican appointee, expressed concern that without clear direction from the body, individuals who choose not to wear a mask may be challenged when they should instead "be just left alone about it."

"What my fear is if we aren't very, very clear that the governor's mandate does not apply at the polling place to voters that you're going to have voters that are harassing other individuals who are there trying to exercise their franchise," he said.


Meanwhile, fellow Republican Commissioner Bob Spindell repeatedly stressed the need to specify election observers wear masks, noting the guidance particularly needs to go out to all the political parties who send officials to polling sites on Election Day to observe proceedings.

In addition to those provisions, members opted to clarify that while voters can be asked to remove their face coverings to verify they resemble their photo ID, most voters likely won't have to do so.

Such a practice appears to be explicitly allowed under one provision of Evers' order, which notes exceptions to the order include instances where it's "necessary to confirm the individual's identity, including when entering a bank, credit union, or other financial institution."

Chair Ann Jacobs, a Democratic appointee, noted it was important that not all voters be asked to remove their face coverings in order to protect poll workers.

"There are a lot of people who are very vulnerable right now, rightfully so, and I don't want the staff and the clerks and the people at the tables having to have every Tom, Dick and Harry whipping their masks off and breathing all over them if they can tell with their mask on that this is still the same person," she said.

Evers' chief legal counsel said at a Thursday news conference local clerks are not responsible for enforcing the statewide mask mandate.

"People have a constitutional right to vote, and we encourage everybody to wear masks," Ryan Nilsestuen said. "It's not up to clerks to enforce this order; clerks' jobs are to make sure that every vote is counted."


Abigail Becker contributed to this report.

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