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Safe voting number one concern

MARQUETTE — COVID-19 concerns have ensured that voters’ experience at the polls on Tuesday will look different than it has in years past, but state and local officials are working to ensure that the process is as safe as possible.

To ensure Michigan voters remain healthy and reduce the spread of COVID-19 during Tuesday’s election, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services released recommendations for voters, poll workers and election officials.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health in Michigan, said the guidance is meant to allow residents to vote safely during the pandemic.

“I encourage registered voters to consider voting alternatives to limit the number of people they come in contact with and to help reduce the spread of the virus,” Khaldun said in the MDHHS release.

Millions of Michigan voters have already taken advantage of newly implemented laws, making absentee options accessible to everyone.

Those who choose to, or must visit the polls on Tuesday, should be aware that poll workers and election officials are required to wear a mask.

Gloves and hand sanitizer have also been provided by the state, in addition to social distancing and cleaning protocols.

Voters are asked to practice healthy behaviors to protect themselves and others from the spread of the virus when casting their ballot in person.

These behaviors include: wearing a mask that covers the mouth and nose; washing hands before entering and after leaving the polling location; frequently using alcohol-based hand sanitizer while at the polling location; covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the inside of the elbow; and maintaining at least 6 feet of distance from others.

“If you are sick or concerned you have been exposed to COVID-19,” the MDHHS release states, “seek medical care. If you don’t have an absentee ballot, contact your local election office for guidance about voting options.”

In addition to MDHHS guidance, the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office has a list of tips to keep the in-person voting process seamless which include bringing identification.

People who do not have IDs will be required to sign an affidavit prior to voting. They request a voter-assist terminal if they have a disability or prefer to use it.

Voters should refrain from interacting with any poll watcher — which is defined by Merriam Webster as “a person assigned, as by a political party or candidate, to observe activities at a polling place to guard against illegal voting, fraudulent counting of ballots and other violations of election law,” or election challengers.

“They are not allowed to speak to voters,” an SOS fact sheet states. “Report violations to an election worker immediately.”

The guidance also states that voters should not allow anyone else to cast their ballot.

“It is your ballot and you must place it in the tabulation machine,” the fact sheet states.

SOS officials also recommend against leaving the polling place without voting. Anyone in line prior to 8 p.m. Tuesday will be permitted to vote, the fact sheet states.

Marquette County Sheriff Greg Zyburt said that while he doesn’t expect issues, his office is prepared to respond as necessary.

“We will have our normal amount of cars and we will respond. We are telling poll workers that if they see something that requires our immediate attention, dial 911,” Zyburt said. “We are not going to stand for any type of intimidation.”

He said poll watchers from both parties have always been respectful of the process and the laws surrounding it.

Zyburt noted that while gun owners have the right to open carry at the polling place — an assertion buffered by a recent Michigan Court of Appeals injunction halting Attorney General Dana Nessel’s proposed ban on the practice — it is important to note that no one should stay at the polling place unnecessarily.

“They come in, they vote and they leave,” Zyburt said. “They can’t just stand there at the polls with a gun.”

Under Michigan law, individuals are not permitted to solicit votes or engage in any type of campaigning “within 100 feet of any doorway used by voters to enter the building,” according to an SOS fact sheet.

Marquette County Prosecutor Matt Wiese said his office is working with partners at the state and local levels to ensure that voting is safe for everyone.

In a memo to law enforcement about the matter, he said “any situation regarding armed persons at the polls would have to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.”

“People who open carry a firearm when voting should: respect other voters; not otherwise engage in threatening or intimidating behavior; cast their vote while lawfully exercising their Second Amendment rights as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution and Michigan law and, after casting their ballots, leave peacefully.”

The memo states that any individuals, whether armed or not, who causes a disturbance at a polling place should be asked to “cease and desist” their disruptive behavior, cast their votes, and then “peacefully leave the polling location.”

“I am asking that all citizens in Marquette County respect each other’s Constitutional rights; regardless if those rights are 2nd Amendment firearms rights, 1st Amendment free speech rights, or voting rights as guaranteed under the 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th amendments,” the memorandum states.

“I don’t feel that you have the right to hang out at a polling place,” Wiese said. “We want to make sure every citizen has the right to cast a ballot and we don’t want congestion in the polls.”

He said any person who is in violation of any law would be educated before any corrective action would be taken by law enforcement.

Individuals should report any voter intimidation, harassment or coercion that they witness to an election worker or contact the nonpartisan election protection hotline at 1-866-687-8683, the SOS fact sheet states.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.

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