xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Harford County voter arrested after refusing to wear a mask inside polling place, police say

Baltimore Sun's politics reporter Emily Opilo talks about early voting in Maryland and what you need to know before proceeding to local polling places.

A Fallston man was arrested after refusing to wear a face mask inside a polling place on the first day of early voting in Maryland, according to charging documents.

Daniel Swain, 52, was charged with trespassing and failure to comply with a health emergency. The Harford County Sheriff’s Office said deputies arrested him Monday after he refused to leave the Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Company.

Advertisement

Swain, along with his 22-year-old son, had come to the firehouse to vote, but the pair refused to wear masks, according to the documents.

Election officials offered Swain, a former Baltimore County Department of Corrections captain who retired this year, the option of voting at an outdoor voting booth. Swain told three officers the request was “unconstitutional” and said Maryland law allowed people to vote inside without face masks, the police report said.

Advertisement

Maryland remains under an order requiring anyone over the age of 5 to wear face coverings while inside public spaces.

Daniel Swain, 52, of Fallston, was charged with trespassing and failure to comply with a health emergency after police said he refused to wear a mask or leave a voting center Monday at the Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Company.
Daniel Swain, 52, of Fallston, was charged with trespassing and failure to comply with a health emergency after police said he refused to wear a mask or leave a voting center Monday at the Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Company. (Courtesy Harford County Sheriff's Office)

Swain refused several requests from election officials and deputies to wear a mask and “continued to argue,” the charging documents said. The pair were asked to leave the polling place around 3:15 p.m. Swain’s son complied, but Swain refused, police said.

“When it was clear there were no other options, Mr. Swain was placed under arrest for the trespassing violation and the office of the Harford County state’s attorney was contacted and advised to charge Mr. Swain for a violation of the governor’s orders, in addition to the trespassing charge,” the sheriff’s office said Tuesday in a Facebook post.

He was taken to the county detention center. Records show he was released Monday night on his own recognizance. A trial is scheduled for Dec. 4 in Harford District Court.

Swain’s wife, Gayle Swain, said late Monday the family would not talk with a reporter about what happened, on the advice of its attorney. She declined to name the lawyer, and none was listed in online court records.

Sheriff’s office spokesperson Cristie Hopkins said Monday night that polls are subject to the governor’s mask order while they are open to the public.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday he was unaware of the arrest, but called it “very important.”

“The state and county boards of elections have been very careful about trying to keep people protected,” Hogan said during an appearance in Northeast Baltimore. “The pandemic is spiking out of control at this point in states across America. Our numbers are even starting to slightly rise. We’re very concerned about the spread, so I’m sure that was a decision that the local board of elections and the local law enforcement made.”

Later, Hogan added: “89% of the people in Maryland agree with us that you should be wearing masks, social distancing, washing your hands frequently and following the public health guidance. The people who don’t are endangering themselves and their family members and their neighbors.”

The sheriff’s office said Tuesday in a Facebook post that Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler, a Republican, remains committed to handling mask violations through education rather than by making arrests or issuing criminal citations.

“However, if a private property owner, store manager, or in this case, election official needed assistance in having a person vacate a premise, we would enforce a trespassing violation,” the post stated. “That is exactly what occurred in the following incident. While the polls are open to the public, they are subject to compliance with the rules and regulations set forth by the board of elections and the governor of Maryland.”

The Facebook post noted deputies worked for nearly 30 minutes to resolve the issue.

Advertisement

State’s Attorney Albert Peisinger, a Republican, said Tuesday that he had not yet seen the charging documents for Swain, but he and his staff will review the case “as we would any other."

Based on the circumstances, Peisinger said he would not seek to have the case dismissed outright, but he could consider pursuing some type of alternative to the traditional legal process.

“Is it appropriate for some kind of diversion while still accepting responsibility for actions? That could be possible,” Peisinger said.

Kimberley Slusar, Harford’s acting elections director, said Monday night that Swain had not voted yet, and noted he was “given ample opportunity” to do so.

“It is worth noting, Mr. Swain was not banned from the location, and is still able to cast his ballot,” the sheriff’s office said in its Facebook post.

Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator for the Maryland State Board of Elections, said the state’s policy is to first offer a mask to voters without one.

People who have a medical condition or disability that prevent them from wearing a mask do not have to use one, Charlson said. Those voters will be asked if they are willing to vote a provisional ballot outside of the primary voting room. If they are unwilling, election staff must allow them to vote inside the standard voting location.

But voters who do not have a medical reason for refusing to wear a mask are required to vote outside the primary voting room, Charlson said. The segregated voting site can be outside or in a different room inside the voting center.

Baltimore Sun reporter Christine Condon and Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters David Anderson and James Whitlow contributed to this article.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement