People without masks won’t be able to vote after all. The police across Broward will be able to remove troublemakers from the polls, whether they’re making a stink about masks or trying to intimidate other voters, Broward’s election chief says.
Broward County Supervisor of Elections Pete Antonacci on Thursday signed paperwork that grants the Broward Sheriff’s Office and city police departments the authority to remove any “disruptive and unruly” people from polling sites.
Antonacci’s move is aimed at trying to ensure a smooth election as early voting begins Monday. The cops won’t be stationed at the polls: They’ll only show up if someone from the elections office calls for their help.
But county commissioners last week said they feared maskless voters would spread COVID-19 and urged Antonacci to reconsider. Antonacci’s solution came Thursday with what’s called “a trespass affidavit,” a form in which he authorizes police agencies to remove people from polling sites if they violate COVID-19 restrictions, including the county’s order requiring masks.
Broward’s mask mandate remains in effect, requiring anyone in public to wear a facial covering to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Previously, officers could be slowed down in removing anyone from a property by having to first contact a property owner or legal occupant. “With pre-authorization, there’s no question the police have power to act,” said agency spokesman Steven J. Vancore.
Antonacci is “trying to be responsive and trying to streamline enforcement in the event something does happen,” he said.
The Broward County Commission last week asked the county’s elections office to separate maskless voters from other people for safety, but the elections office rejected the request at the time.
On Thursday, the elections office said Antonacci had found a way to start enforcing the rules already in place by handing over enforcement power.
“We maintained from Day 1 we don’t have authority to enforce the [mask] ordinance, but Pete thought about it and wants to be responsive to the concerns expressed by the board [of county commissioners] and the public, and he’s found a way to do that,” Vancore said. “He’s saying the enforcement has been turned over to local authorities by pre-authorizing it.”
This tells the Sheriff’s Office: "You don’t need to call us if there’s a trespass problem — go ahead and act.”
Vancore said the measure isn’t just for mask enforcement, but to protect voters from “rabble-rousers, harassing people.”
When asked if deputies could now remove anyone who refused to put on a mask to vote, Vancore answered: “Correct.”
Sgt. Donald Prichard, spokesman for the Broward Sheriff’s Office, said deputies will respond when the Elections Office requests their help. The paperwork was being revised to include all city police departments — and a copy will be sent to all police chiefs in Broward.
Broward Vice Mayor Steve Geller said he was “surprised and pleased” the elections office “has recognized the need to preserve the health of Broward County voters while at the same time recognizing there is a constitutional right to vote.”
“We must permit people to vote but just as we can bar people from voting when they are not wearing clothes, you also don’t have a constitutional right to vote while endangering people’s health.”
“I’m thrilled with this.”
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