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‘Aggressive’ behavior brings law enforcement to Belmont County voting location

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Law enforcement officers are now monitoring early in-person voting in Belmont County after some people casting ballots exhibited “aggressive” behavior toward poll workers.

Belmont County Elections Board Chairman Michael Shaheen said the board met in special session Wednesday afternoon following reports that some individuals refused poll workers’ requests that they don a face mask or remove or cover garments that displayed political slogans. Face masks are required when voting in person in Ohio to guard against transmission of the new coronavirus, and state law prohibits politically affiliated messages from being displayed at polling locations.

“Unfortunately, our staff is experiencing incidents in which people are presenting in an angry, disrespectful, and, at times, aggressive manner,” the board said in a statement released after the meeting. “Our staff works diligently as public servants to see that the election is undertaken fairly, accurately, and in a professional manner. Our staff is trained to address the needs of the public and to provide good public service. We as a Board cannot let people disrupt this process nor create an unsafe atmosphere at the Board and/or for other potential voters.”

Early in-person voting is taking place at the board headquarters, located at 52180 National Road, St. Clairsville. Shaheen said once voting begins at the site, it must be treated like any other polling location — meaning that it must follow state laws that govern polling places and must offer every registered voter a fair opportunity to cast their ballot.

Shaheen said some voters who have visited the site have resisted requests to remove hats or cover other garments displaying political slogans, while others have refused to wear a facial covering. In one instance, he said, a voter who did not want to don a mask threw a ballot at an elderly poll worker.

As a result, and in an effort to provide the public and the staff with a safe and comfortable environment, the board is now employing law enforcement officers.

“Law enforcement is now present each day at the Board of Elections during the hours in which people are eligible to vote,” the statement continues. “Staff has been instructed to engage law enforcement if in fact a potential voter presents in a disrespectful, aggressive, or unsafe manner. All voters are subject to the same rules. Voters are expected to wear a mask and not present with any type of politically affiliated clothing or display, which includes hat, mask, shirt, clothing, badges, bracelets, signs, etc.”

Shaheen said no voter will be turned away, even if they will not wear a mask. When that occurs, however, he said the staff must empty the room of all occupants, allow the individual to vote, then sanitize the entire room before allowing any more voters to enter.

By obeying the rules, he said, the public can help make the process a smooth one for everyone who wishes to vote.

“In short, we simply ask that people be kind to one another during this process,” the board states. “We at Belmont County Board of Elections take our job very seriously and we realize just how sacred it is to live in a country where everyone has an opportunity to vote without fear of retribution. We simply ask that those who choose to vote do so in a lawful and appropriate manner. With everyone’s help, we can accomplish our goal of a fair and accurate election again being completed in Belmont County, Ohio.”

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