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Voter lawsuit aims to block mask mandate at Minnesota polling places

Jessie Van Berkel, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in News & Features

MINNEAPOLIS -- A group of voters backed by Republican legislators sued Gov. Tim Walz and other state and local officials Tuesday in federal court, aiming to block a face mask requirement at polling places.

Members of the Minnesota Voters Alliance and GOP lawmakers contend Walz's mask mandate, intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, conflicts with a longstanding state law making it a misdemeanor for someone to conceal their identity with a mask. The 1963 law grants exceptions, including masks that are part of medical treatment.

"That's a conflict and I don't know what to do on primary day," said Kim Crockett, one of the Minnesotans challenging the mask requirement.

She and other members of the Voters Alliance are seeking a temporary restraining order to block the rule that people must wear masks when they vote in person during next Tuesday's primary election.

The statewide indoor mask mandate Walz issued two weeks ago was one of the latest emergency orders from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party governor in response to the pandemic. Crockett said Tuesday she wants such decisions to be made through a back-and-forth between legislators, "not an edict by our governor."

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison issued a statement Tuesday standing behind "the legality and constitutionality of this executive order." His office noted that the suit is the 11th legal challenge so far against Walz or the state over COVID-19 restrictions.

 

Meanwhile, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon told the Star Tribune last week that voters won't be required to wear masks. Election workers will ask people to wear masks and offer them for free. Curbside voting could be an alternative for voters who refuse. Counties and cities can determine whether to cite people who violate the mask rule, Simon said. "No one should stand in their way of voting. It's a constitutional right," he said. "You can't tie a constitutional right to the wearing of a mask."

Voters Alliance attorney Erick Kaardal said Simon's comments are an "attempt to distract the public" from a policy he issued to county auditors and elections officials. If someone insists on voting at an indoor polling place without a mask and doesn't have a health reason preventing them from covering their face, then Simon directed officials to allow them to vote but to record that person's name and let them know they will be reported to authorities.

The suit is the latest Republican challenge to Walz's use of emergency powers in the pandemic. Democrats who control the state House have blocked Republicans' efforts to end those powers. DFL leaders say it's important for Walz -- like other governors across the nation -- to be able to act quickly in response to the pandemic.

Emergency executive orders historically supersede regular state statues, said Walz spokesman Teddy Tschann. He noted that the face covering order specifically mentions the COVID-19 emergency, and that it would not be a violation of the 1963 statute to comply.

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