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Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office has put out guidance saying Californians don’t have to wear COVID-19 masks to vote in November’s presidential election.

Photo of Secretary of State Alex Padilla

“In California, we will not force voters into having to choose between exercising their right to vote or protecting their health and that of their loved ones.”California Secretary of State Alex Padilla

However, mask-less voters may be asked to use a voting station with additional physical distancing to protect the safety of others.

Counties also must make disposable face coverings available to voters and observers who arrive without them.

“Election workers must not turn a voter away for lack of face covering. The right to vote takes precedence,” state the guidelines. “In such circumstances, election workers should consider additional physical distancing. Confrontation is not advisable.”

The guidelines also say election workers, “may not turn away observers and other visitors not using a face covering.”

If voters may come into the voting location wearing branded face coverings representing a candidate or ballot measure that may be deemed electioneering. In such cases, election workers may politely request that the voter use a different face covering, or provide another face covering.

“In California, we will not force voters into having to choose between exercising their right to vote or protecting their health and that of their loved ones,” said Padilla during a Facebook live broadcast Thursday. “This is an all-hands-on-deck moment.”

Fewer Polling Places

On Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law to let counties offer fewer in-person polling places in exchange for opening their sites earlier.

Lawmakers expect many counties will use the new rules. But, for counties that can’t meet the requirements partial waiver applications are available.

The new law requires “the Secretary of State to establish a process to consider requests from counties to adjust or partially waive the minimally required number, location, or operational duration, of vote centers, consolidated polling places, or ballot drop-off locations.”

Said Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth, who is president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials: “I think all counties have struggled a bit. It is an extreme, additional lift. There will be lines because you just can’t physically put all of those people together” during a pandemic.

Padilla says, “We’re going to work hard to encourage people to vote early, whether it’s by mail or safely in-person. The more we can successfully get people to vote early by mail or in-person, we hope to reduce the lines and the crowd size on Election Day.”

Fresno County started recruiting additional election workers with a social media post on Thursday.

The Fresno County Clerk – Elections Office needs your help as an Election Worker. See the flyer for details and visit FresnoCountyJobs.com or contact 559-600-1830 for more information!

Posted by County of Fresno on Thursday, August 6, 2020

Republicans Oppose Fewer Voting Sites

Some Republicans opposed the law, arguing it will create more confusion on Election Day when people show up at their usual polling places only to find them closed.

“We’re going to have a lot of voter confusion, and we could very well have problems in the November election,” Assemblyman James Gallagher, a Republican from Nicolaus, said during an Assembly debate.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)

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