Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell has said voters who opt not to wear masks will not be turned away from polling stations on 14 April.

“The Elections Office wishes to clarify to voters that, due to the high turnout expected on Election Day, the wearing of face masks or coverings is encouraged but is not a requirement to vote,” Howell said in a statement Saturday, in which he clarified the position on mask wearing while voting.

The statement said a supply of face masks will be available at all polling stations if voters wish to wear one.

“Should someone choose not to wear a face mask at a polling station, this will not impede their ability to cast their ballot in any way as this has not been mandated by law. Given the ongoing global pandemic, some individuals may feel more comfortable to attend a polling station with a face mask on. It is this that we are suggesting to people that they consider,” the elections supervisor said in the statement.

“Our goal, as ever, is to see as many voters as possible cast their ballots in this General Election as every vote counts,” he added.

Howell’s statement follows social media concerns that voters may be discouraged from going to the polls on Wednesday because of the recommendation for the wearing of masks.

In an interview with the Cayman Compass earlier this week, Howell said even though the Cayman community remains largely free of COVID-19, he urged people to wear masks while at polling stations.

“We want to ask everybody that attends the polling stations on Election Day to wear a mask. If they don’t have one, we will provide them with one of the three-layer surgical masks as they come up and we ask them to wear that throughout, because we [are] expecting 19,000 [to] 20,000 persons to be moving about on Election Day, which is probably the largest movement of persons since we [were] locked down this time last year,” Howell told the Compass in an 8 April interview.

Making masks available to voters if they want to wear them inside polling stations is one of several changes the Elections Office will be opting for on 14 April.

“For example, the polling booths usually have one pencil that everybody uses,” Howell said. “This time around, we’ll be giving one pencil per individual so we’re not reusing pencils. So there [won’t] be 200 hands on one pencil at the end of the day. Some practical things like that.”

Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell and his team of polling day staff during a recent training session for quarantine mobile voting. – Photo: Reshma Ragoonath

Cayman, which has been successful in its management of the pandemic, has not recorded any cases of community transmission since last year and has only registered sporadic cases from quarantined travellers.

While Howell acknowledged this, he said the additional measures at the ballot box are necessary.

“We are taking that extra precaution of having the hand sanitiser on hand, the masks for our staff and also for the voters that are visiting [the polling stations],” Howell said.

He said social distancing will not be required, but “we’re asking for everyone to utilise the hand sanitisers that we have present”.

On 7 April, Howell oversaw a Public Health Department training session with Elections Office staff at Constitution Hall in George Town in preparation for conducting mobile voting on 10 and 11 April for electors who are in isolation.

The staff were being briefed on protocols for polling the quarantining voters and the proper use of personal protective equipment, which they are required to use when conducting mobile voting at isolation facilities.

Howell said around 30 requests were received for mobile voting for isolating electors, two of which are on Cayman Brac.

Elections Office staff conducting that exercise on the Brac were trained by health officials on the bigger of the two sister islands, and also joined the Grand Cayman training session via Zoom.

“We’re thankful that we’re in this situation where we’re not limited really in significant numbers coming out at the polls. I think we’ll be able to pull the normal 200 per hour that we’ve been used to without having long lines … and we’re also glad that we were able to use the courier for postal ballots, and we’re able to get some of the travellers voting before they travelled. That way, we just minimise the number of persons that we have to visit during quarantine,” Howell said.

He said polling quarantining voters is the “most labour intensive” of the ways the Elections Office has conducted the vote.

Howell said he was grateful to the Public Health team and Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee for working with his team to finalise the protocols to allow the quarantine voting.

On 8 and 9 April, the Elections Office team conducted mobile and postal voting for those who applied for early voting and who were confirmed on the updated electors roll, Howell said.

He added that Elections Office staff have received their COVID-19 vaccines.

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