A Chester County elections worker cleared out a voting office Monday afternoon during a confrontation with a Republican candidate for the S.C. House of Representatives who repeatedly refused to wear a mask while casting her ballot.
The incident quickly made the rounds on Facebook, fanning the flames of an unending debate about wearing masks and highlighting one election worker's attempt to balance COVID-19 concerns with South Carolinians' legal right to vote while maskless.
Earl Moore, the 69-year-old poll worker, said he was trying to protect other voters from the deadly coronavirus when he emptied a room of the Chester County Elections Commission until Jennifer Brecheisen and her husband, both maskless, had voted and left.
But Brecheisen, who filmed part of the incident, accused Moore of bullying her and singling her out as if she were trying to infect people.
“That was rude to me,” Brecheisen tells Moore, who was wearing a mask, in the video. “You cleared out the whole building like I’m some sort of disease. I’m not a disease.”
The 38-year-old wedding photographer and vocal supporter of President Donald Trump quickly posted the video to Facebook, a platform she has used to bolster her "pro-liberty" campaign by railing against mask mandates and other coronavirus restrictions she views as government overreach.
The post has garnered more than 175 comments, drawing a mix of Brecheisen supporters who think mask mandates are stupid and critics who say her refusal to wear a mask around others was childish and selfish.
Brecheisen told The Post and Courier she has a series of health conditions that make her more vulnerable to becoming seriously ill with COVID-19, but she doesn’t wear masks because “I want to be able to breathe.”
The incident also highlighted conflicting guidance in parts of South Carolina about when face coverings are required to slow the spread of COVID-19, a highly contagious respiratory disease that has infected at least 164,000 people and killed 3,600 in the Palmetto State.
Moore, who retired as executive director of the Chester County Elections Commission in 2014 before returning as a poll worker, told The Post and Courier he was enforcing a local ordinance that requires residents to wear masks inside public buildings.
“We’re in a closed room with a lot of people in it, and I’ve got somebody refusing to wear a mask,” Moore said. “Why should I take the risk of her infecting other people?”
But in August, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order that states S.C. voters can’t be required to wear masks at polling locations this fall. That order supersedes the county’s mask mandate, and poll managers are trained to let maskless voters enter polling locations and cast their ballots, State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said.
“Poll managers aren’t the police,” Whitmire said. “They are not there to enforce local ordinances. There is no law that says masks are prerequisites to vote.”
Moore did not violate McMaster’s order since he ultimately allowed Brecheisen and her husband to vote.
But Whitmire said Moore’s "creative" tactic of halting traffic into the room until after the couple had left probably isn’t feasible moving forward, since it could lead to longer lines on Election Day. Moore said he hasn’t had to clear the voting office for anyone else because every other Chester voter has agreed to wear a mask in the building.
On her way toward the exit after voting, Brecheisen began recording a video on her phone and started a second exchange with Moore.
“You can’t require people to wear masks in here,” she told him.
“I’m not keeping you from voting, ma’am,” Moore replied. “But I’m not going to stand here and argue with you either.”
As they spoke, Moore held a can of disinfecting spray in his right hand. Brecheisen later said on Facebook she felt threatened he would spray her with it. But Moore waited until Brecheisen and her husband were out the door to spray down the office.
Brecheisen stands little chance of defeating Democratic state Rep. Annie McDaniel of Winnsboro in November's election, though she says she has won over local Democratic leaders throughout the district.
Democrats have won House District 41 by more than 50 percentage points in recent contested elections.