Concerns about the potential lack of masking at polling sites spurred the Union-Snyder Agency on Aging to deny the use of two senior centers in the upcoming election, causing elections officials to find new locations in Lewisburg and Beaver Springs.
The Lewisburg 1 polling site in Union County moves to the Masonic Hall, 28 N. Front St., while voters in the Spring Township precinct of Snyder County will cast ballots at the Middlecreek Area Community Center, 67 Elm St., Beaver Springs. The changes are in effect for the primary election on June 2.
Holly Kyle, the Aging Agency director, supported her board’s decision. The senior centers are closed to the public, though, there’s limited staff working at each site. Without the capability to enforce face-masking at the polls, Kyle feared her staff would be at risk.
Pennsylvania can’t enforce masking at the polls as mandatory, according to Department of State Communications Director Wanda Murren. Wearing a face mask is strongly encouraged, she said.
“We ask that voters be considerate of other voters and especially of the poll workers who are working the polls despite unprecedented conditions and potential risk to their own health,” Murren said.
Kyle wouldn’t specify the age of the employees. However, it should be noted the coronavirus and the disease COVID-19 is particularly dangerous to senior citizens. Should one employee contract the disease, Kyle said it could have “devastating effects for the people we serve.”
“I totally understand the poll workers do not have enforcement capabilities,” Kyle said. “What I had insisted and what I was asking was that everyone coming into the building including those working the polls would be required to mask.”
“I’ve come nine weeks. I cannot afford to place any of them at risk because people don’t want to follow the rules we have,” she said.
The Department of Health recommends that people wear homemade cloth or fabric masks, leaving surgical masks and N95 respirators for frontline workers. People are recommended to wear a mask when in a public setting like grocery stores, doctor offices and other businesses. Hand-washing, avoiding touching your face and cleaning surfaces also remain among the cautions people should take to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
According to Greg Katherman, elections director for Union County, Kyle notified the county during Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting — two weeks from Election Day — that the senior center wasn’t available.
“They had confirmed with us at least two other times that they were OK for it,” Katherman said. “If someone comes in without a mask on, none of the poll workers nor do I have the right to refuse them to vote.”
Katherman said he had agreed to sanitize the space before and after it was used.
No other polling locations are in jeopardy of a last-minute switch, Katherman said.
Union County Commissioner Stacy Richards, a member of the Aging Agency board, said Kyle had been seeking answers before Tuesday’s announcement.
Bucks County Commissioners adopted a resolution requiring voters there to wear masks, but Richards said Union County chose not to take the same step.
“She just wasn’t getting clear answers,” Richards said. “I think a lot of people viewed it including the (Union) county commissioners as you don’t get in the way of voting. I think we just assumed that people would wear masks. The mask protects other people so it is a community good to wear a mask.”