Lawmaker takes legal case of Maryland man arrested for not wearing mask at polling place

This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

A Harford County man who was arrested after trying to vote without a mask on Monday is suing the local board of elections, arguing that his arrest was unlawful — and a Republican lawmaker is providing legal representation.

Daniel Swain, 52, a retired Baltimore County Department of Corrections captain, and his 22-year-old son refused to wear masks when they arrived to vote at the Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Company on Monday, according to the Harford County Sheriff’s Office.

Swain was charged with trespassing after he refused to leave the voting center when asked by election officials.

Now, Swain and his son are suing the Harford County Board of Elections and county Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler (R). According to the lawsuit, the pair were only ordered to wear masks once they were inside the facility and election staff learned that they were Republicans. The Swains want a temporary restraining order against the local board of elections so they can vote without having to don a face covering.

Swain and his son are being represented by state Del. Daniel L. Cox (R-Frederick), who previously slammed Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan’s coronavirus-related restrictions as an authoritative overstep.

“My client was held for over six hours in jail and was only released after he was forced to don a face covering and, like in a Communist State, forced to sign a statement that he would obey the Governor’s executive orders,” Cox wrote in a news release. “Neither he nor his son have yet been permitted to vote because of threats to arrest them if they do not do so with a face covering, which they object to.”

Cox went on to write that Swain shouldn’t have been charged with trespassing, and that the charge is “potentially false and defamatory.” Police, on the other hand, argued that the arrest was justified, since Swain was refusing to follow Hogan’s order requiring face masks in public spaces.

“Sheriff Gahler has been very clear that deputies would handle reported mask violations through education and would not be making arrests or issuing criminal citations solely for refusing to follow the Governors’ order on wearing masks,” a statement from the Harford County Sheriff’s Office reads. “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. That is exactly what occurred in the following incident.”

Deputies were told on the scene that election officials had designated an area for voters who were “unable or unwilling” to wear a mask. According to the sheriff’s office statement, Swain and his son refused to vote in that area.

In a Wednesday statement, the Harford County Board of Elections did not directly address Swain’s lawsuit. Instead, officials wrote about balancing Marylanders’ right to vote with public health orders.

“The Harford County Board of Elections has made, and will continue to make, every effort to afford each eligible voter the opportunity to exercise his or her constitutional right to vote,” local election officials wrote. “At the same time, we must protect the health of our citizens and the election staff by following Governor Hogan’s directives and the guidance of the Maryland State Board of Elections. Our goal is always a safe, fair and successful election.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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