S.E. Williams | Executive Editor
Webster’s definition of Absurd: “noun: the state or condition in which human beings exist in an irrational, and meaningless universe and in which human life has no ultimate meaning; adj: ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous; extremely silly or ridiculous; having no rational or orderly relationship to human life. . .”
By the time you read this piece, Election Day 2020 will be in the rear-view mirror though in many regards the results may still be undetermined.
Regardless of the outcome, the 2020 election cycle will certainly be one for the history books even as the deadly virus that has killed so many continues to sweep across the country.
As might be expected in this world of opposites, the negative atmosphere of the presidential campaign was met with a level of positive voter participation unlike anything the nation had experienced in recent history.
Early voting began in California October 5 and according to the 2020 November General Election VoteCal Vote By Mail (VBM) statistics as of October 28, 2020 more than 8.7 million Californians had already returned their Vote by Mail ballots. This included 436,649 or 34.6% of VBM ballots issued in Riverside County and 322,692 or 28.4% of VBM ballots issued in San Bernardino County. The return rate in both inland counties, however, was below the statewide VBM return rate average during the same period of 39.3%.
When the number of VBM ballots were combined with early in person voting, NBC News reported as of October 30, total early voting across the state was up over 2016 levels by 128%.
The risks of in person voting during a raging pandemic was a key driver in California’s decision to send every registered voter a mail in ballot as a way to mitigate exposure at the polls; however, in August, Secretary of State Alex Padilla issued the November 3, 2020 General Election Administration Guidance under COVID-19 with was devoid of any consequences or concrete expectations for voters to wear masks at the polls. The document merely provided mask wearing recommendations.
Despite an airborne virus that continues to sicken and kill people across the country, California, the bluest of blue states in the nation took a cowardly approach to the election by not making it a requirement to wear a mask at the polls. Was it because officials feared a conservative backlash, they proved so willing to risk the health and well-being of potentially vulnerable voters—many of whom put them in office?
To acquiesce to the COVID-19 deniers at the risk of even one constituent is too much. Yes, everyone has a right to vote but in a dangerous pandemic—as far as I am concerned—not without a mask, just as everyone has a right to drive but not without a seat belt, or to smoke cigarettes just not inside a hospital, or to own a gun but not to kill people.
It just makes no sense to say someone’s right not to wear a mask to vote should supersede someone else’s right to vote and not be at risk of exposure to a deadly virus. Remember, as noted in the Secretary of State’s guidance, “The CDC stresses that face coverings slow the spread of the virus, in particular by preventing people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.”
The guidance also provided detailed guidance for poll workers regarding the need to wear face coverings and to follow other CDC safety guidelines to limit the spread of COVID at the polls. They were also required to have masks available for voters.
It took 18 pages of explanations before the 49-page Secretary of State guidelines got to the point regarding, “voters who insist on not abiding by health and safety requirements.”
The guidance continued, “Such voters must still be allowed to exercise their right to vote regardless of face covering or distancing compliance.”
After providing a few mealy-mouthed options for poll workers to try in an attempt to coerce the voter to comply with the face covering recommendation, the document read, “Those who refuse to use a face covering inside a polling place, including some unable to do so for medical reasons, and some who may also refuse to practice social distancing, create not only health risks, but also challenging encounters for your election workers.” And yet, there was no mandate to wear a mask while inside polling locations.
For the State of California to acquiesce to bullies was stunning.
Locally, each county took extra steps to protect other voters but not to the inconvenience of those who refused to comply with the mask recommendation. Instead, it was incumbent upon those who did comply and wear masks, to take the extra precautions.
In San Bernardino County, guidelines required mask-wearing voters who were in the process of casting ballots when someone refusing to wear a mask entered the voting site, to be offered face shields as added protection. In Riverside County when a voter refused to wear a mask the guidelines required all other voters to be escorted outside until the “non complier” completed his/her ballot.
Pulitzer Prize winning science journalist and author of “The Coming Plague,” Laurie Garrett recently reminded Americans, wearing face masks has proven to slow the spread of the virus. In addition, regarding those who argue they do not fear the virus and therefore do not need to wear a mask to protect him/herself, Garrett stressed how people are asked to wear masks not to protect themselves but in case he/she has the virus and is asymptomatic, wearing a mask protects those with whom they come in contact.
Many of those refusing to wear masks make it clear they have no interest in protecting others. Yet, author Anthony J. D’Angelo summed it up best when he said, “Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.” This helps explain the ongoing tension in the nation over the mask issue.
Nearly nine months after the pandemic began to spread across the nation, with more than nine million Americans having tested positive for the virus and over a quarter of million dead, it remains disappointing so many of our fellow citizens do not see themselves in a role fundamentally described in every spiritual tradition to one degree or another—that we are our brother’s keeper.
Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.
S.E. Williams is editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News.