Voters sue over Minnesota mask mandate, aim to block requirement for primary election

Gov. Tim Walz's office said those who wear masks as directed by state order wouldn't face penalties.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz put his face mask at the conclusion of a press conference Thursday, July 30, 2020 announcing the learning plan for Minnesota schools for the upcoming 2020-21 school year. Aaron Lavinsky / Star Tribune / Pool

ST. PAUL โ€” A group of Minnesota lawmakers and voters on Tuesday, Aug. 4, said it plans to bring a federal lawsuit against the Walz administration contending the governor's mandate of masks in public places violates state law and Minnesotans' constitutional rights.

A handful of Minnesota voters along with the Minnesota Voters Alliance brought the action after voters said they were confused about whether they'd violate existing state law by wearing a facemask to vote in the Aug. 11 primary election or opting not to wear one.

They said conflicting statutes and an executive order from Gov. Tim Walz mandating masks in public places could prevent some voters from casting ballots in the election next week. And they asked a federal judge to lift the mask mandate to prevent confusion or a chilling effect on voting.

"Minnesota criminalizes both wearing a mask and not wearing a mask," Erick Kaardal, an attorney representing the group, said. โ€œWe just want the governor to work with the Legislature to figure it out because the governor is doing a very poor job constitutionally on his own.โ€

The group also took issue with the emergency powers Walz used to issue the mandate for face coverings or masks last month.


The DFL governor said the requirement was key to tamping down cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Walz in his executive order said those wearing masks or face coverings in compliance with the order would not be subject to penalty under existing state law.

Confusion seemed to stem from a law overridden by the executive order says that masks or disguises aimed at concealing a person's identity are prohibited unless used based on a person's "religious beliefs, or incidental to amusement, entertainment, protection from weather, or medical treatment."

And a spokesman for Walz on Tuesday said those who wear masks to the polls would not face any legal action.

But voters who joined in the lawsuit said they wanted clearer guidance before Tuesday's primary election and they said the Legislature, not just the governor, should be involved.

"Itโ€™s not about what I would or would not do, Iโ€™m getting conflicting messages from my government and Iโ€™m a law-abiding citizen and I donโ€™t know what to do," Kim Crockett, a voter named in the lawsuit, said.

Republican lawmakers filed a separate lawsuit earlier this summer alleging that Gov. Tim Walz's executive orders violated Minnesotans' civil liberties and should be struck down. A Ramsey County judge is still weighing that case.

Kaardal said he hopes the court will act on the case before Tuesday to provide clarity for voters.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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