Council election

A voter wears a mask outside the District 5 polling place at First Presbyterian Church of Newark during last year’s city election.

Anyone who votes in person during the April 13 city council election will be required to wear a face mask, according to strict guidelines voted into law by city council on Monday.

Anyone who declines to wear a mask will be refused entry into the polling place and instead allowed to fill out an absentee ballot outside.

The ordinance also requires everyone in a polling place to adhere to social distancing requirements of six feet except if a poll worker and voter must have closer contact in order to check identification, exchange signature cards or provide instructions for using the voting machine.

“While there were zero incidents in the 2020 city election of voters refusing to wear masks, staff wanted to ensure this possibility was addressed to provide clarity for both the voters and the poll workers,” City Secretary Renee Bensley explained.

While current state guidelines require mask use indoors, Bensley proposed the ordinance in order to affirm that mask requirements apply to polling places and to provide protection to poll workers in case the governor amends his executive order prior to the election.

By passing the mask mandate, the city has a stricter requirement than the state used for the November elections. While the state election department strongly encouraged voters to wear masks, it said it believed turning away those who refused to do so would pose constitutional issues.

Like it did last year, the city is encouraging voters to cast their ballot by mail, but it will have an in-person polling place as usual. In 2020, approximately 80 percent of the votes were cast through absentee ballot.

The city will send absentee ballot request forms to every registered voter in District 2, the only district with a contested election. Those who wish to vote by mail should return the form, and a ballot will be mailed out. The final deadline for returning completed affidavits is April 9. All completed absentee ballots must be returned to the City Secretary’s Office no later than 8 p.m. the day of the election.

The District 2 polling place will be at Aetna Hose, Hook and Ladder Station #8, 410 Ogletown Road.

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