Missouri Poll Workers Instructed To ‘Act Surprised’ If Voters Ask Why They Aren’t Wearing Face Masks

A sign directs voters to a polling place
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Poll workers in a Missouri county were told to “act surprised” if a voter were to ask them about why they aren’t wearing face coverings, The Associated Press reported. The county’s director of elections said that the writer of the email chose their words poorly and that the whole thing is a misunderstanding.

St. Charles County, which includes some St. Louis suburbs, as well as rural portions further west, does not have a mask mandate, nor does Missouri as a whole. And in an email to poll workers in that county, the St. Charles County Election Authority reminded them that masks aren’t required, but that they should have one at the ready and be prepared to put it on if a voter complains.

However, it’s the advice about interacting with the voters that is raising eyebrows.

“You may act surprised that you don’t have a face mask on properly and then apologize as you put the mask on. Wear your mask correctly until the voter leaves the polling place. Please do this every time a voter says something to you,” the email said.

However, Kurt Bahr, the county’s director of elections, said that the paragraph was simply worded poorly.

a voter wearing a mask
  Mark Makela / Getty Images

Specifically, he noted that, prior to the August primary election, the county merely encouraged poll workers to wear masks. However, afterward, the decision was made to require election officials to have a mask at the ready and to put it on if the voter asks them to.

And as for the “act surprised” advice, Bahr said it was simply to discourage workers from getting into debates about masks with voters.

“The phrase ‘act surprised’ was intended to communicate, ‘Don’t have a debate or dialogue with the voter, don’t have any type of discussion that’s going to slow down the line, just put the mask on, take care of the voter and keep the mask on while they are there in the polling place,'” Bahr said.

The issue of the use of masks at polling places is resonating in places other than Missouri.

As WTAE-TV reported in June, Pittsburgh police were called to a polling station after a voter not wearing a mask got into a verbal altercation with other voters when they asked him to put on a face covering. When authorities arrived, the angry man allegedly got into a physical altercation with a police officer and was led away in handcuffs.

Poll workers declined to press charges.