KSL Investigators Find Not All Polling Place Rules Are Strictly Enforced

Oct 27, 2020, 11:25 PM | Updated: Oct 28, 2020, 1:39 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – In order to keep elections fair and safe, lawmakers and health officials have implemented several rules about what voters can and cannot wear to vote in-person at a polling place. But the KSL Investigators found that the rules are not always enforced as election officials walk a fine line of being rule cops without stifling a voter’s right to cast their ballot.

If you walk into the Salt Lake County Government Center, you’ll immediately get smacked in the face by the rules. Signs everywhere say masks are required and people who enter are required to keep a social distance.

But look around and you’ll find not everyone is following those rules.

“Salt Lake County policy requires masks however, with every requirement, there are exceptions,” said Salt Lake County Chief Deputy Clerk Lannie Chapman.

Chapman said county lawyers have made it clear that poll workers can ask voters to mask up, but they shouldn’t turn people away who refuse. Doing so may violate voting access laws, especially if that person has an unseen medical condition that precludes them from wearing a mask.

“We will not turn them away,” Chapman said. “We will help them vote quickly and leave the premises.”

While the face mask rule may be wishy-washy, there is a rule that is clear: electioneering.

Utah code says that “any oral, printed or written attempt” to influence voters is forbidden. In other words, no political hats, shirts, buttons or anything else is allowed within 150 feet of a polling place.

But the KSL Investigators saw several campaign bumper stickers, hats and t-shirts at the county complex — including one man voting in-person, without a facemask and wearing a hat in support of President Donald Trump. Electioneering was rampant at the polling place.

“We encourage people not to electioneer because that is against the statute,” Chapman said. “However, if somebody does come in with a MAGA hat, with a ‘Yay for Trump,’ or, ‘Yay for Biden’ t-shirt, we will process them just like anyone else.”

That is not the case everywhere in Utah. The KSL Investigators reached out to other county election officials to ask what they will do if somebody showed up wearing election stuff. How aggressively the electioneering rule is enforced may depend on where you live.

In Utah County, a spokesperson said they ask people to remove campaign material, but added the county won’t force the issue.

“If the voter does not want to remove it, we don’t want to create a scene,” said election director Rozan Mitchell. “We would get them processed and out of the facility as quickly as possible.”

Other counties’ responses were more rigid.

Cache County officials told KSL-TV they would not allow people to wear any electioneering gear at a voting center. If it’s a shirt they’re wearing, they’ll be asked to put on a jacket to cover it up. If it’s a button on their jacket or a cap, they’ll be asked to remove it and conceal it before they’ll be allowed to vote.

Washington County officials had the same response. Melanie Abplanalp, who leads their elections team, read KSL-TV the 150 feet rule. She also said people would also be asked to remove that campaign item or cover it up before being allowed to vote.

Abplanalp added the county plans to put up signs outside the voting centers asking people to observe the electioneering law, politely.

Weber County officials simply said they’ll enforce the state electioneering law, while handling the situation with respect for the individual.

One thing election officials agreed on was that no “campaigning” will be allowed at the polls — no signs around the building or honking rallies in the parking lot.

Chapman said someone wearing electioneering material won’t even be allowed to hang out in the public building after they’ve cast their vote.

“If they start to draw too much attention to themselves or start lingering after they’ve already voted, we will help them leave the premises,” she said.

As for masks, all election officials to whom we spoke said their poll workers will be masked up and they’ll encourage voters to also put on masks, but no official would say that a voter would be turned away if they refused to mask up.

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KSL Investigators Find Not All Polling Place Rules Are Strictly Enforced