Dallas County’s top election official announced today she is retiring after the 2020 presidential election, ending her controversial nine-year tenure.
Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole told the Dallas County Election Commission her last day will be November 30.
Today was the first time the Election Commission has met since appointing Pippins-Poole in 2011. They have never reviewed her performance.
County officials are now scrambling to find a replacement as well as fill a vacancy in the department’s No. 2 spot, which has been open since Pippins-Poole’s assistant Robert Heard resigned just before the March primaries.
In Dallas, the county’s elections administrator is appointed by an election commission.
County Judge Clay Jenkins, County Clerk John Warren, Tax Assessor John Ames, and chairs of the county’s Democrat and Republican parties make up the Election Commission, which Jenkins chairs.
Jenkins, Warren, and Ames—all Democrats—were also part of the commission in 2011 that appointed Pippins-Poole, also a Democrat.
Commission members said Wednesday they were surprised to learn Jenkins has already been soliciting applicants without informing them.
“When were we going to be integrated into the process?” Ames asked.
Jenkins said commissioners court has been looking to fill two assistant election administrator positions, Heard’s and a new assistant spot created before Heard left.
Knowing Pippins-Poole intended to retire, Jenkins said the county enlisted a headhunter to search extensively for candidates with the right experience to potentially be elevated to the top spot within a few months.
“As the eighth-largest county in country, we wanted to try to get someone who had done this actual thing … first or second in command of a county above a rural size,” Jenkins said.
Since the court is picking the No. 2 hoping they may become the No. 1 if they’re competent, he said, the Election Commission has to be involved.
The commission wants to fill the No. 2 spot as soon as possible so the new hire has time to learn the ropes and demonstrate if they are qualified to take over the elections department.
Preparations for the November election start at the end of July, Pippins-Poole said.
Commission members said they can’t begin recruiting a potential replacement for Pippins-Poole until she submits an official written resignation.
“You’ll have it at the end of the day,” she said.
Pippins-Poole’s Controversial Tenure
Pippins-Poole’s tenure has been controversial from the start. The longtime friend of Commissioner John Wiley Price was appointed after Jenkins orchestrated the ouster of her then-boss, widely respected administrator Bruce Sherbet.
Under Pippins-Poole’s direction, Dallas County elections have been the subject of multiple mail-ballot fraud investigations, including allegations that some elections department employees were involved in the schemes. A number of complaints have charged her office with misconduct for failing to follow proper procedures. She was even caught soliciting cash donations from vendors.
Voters again questioned Pippins-Poole’s competence when they discovered the electronic poll books she purchased last year didn’t work securely and had to be replaced.
And in this year’s March primaries, thousands of ballots “misplaced” by the elections office went uncounted for a week until a court ordered a partial recount.
Another Democrat election head, Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman, stepped down last month amid mail-ballot controversies, citing “personal health reasons.” Harris County commissioners temporarily filled the vacancy with a Texas Democrat Party official. Voters there will elect a replacement in November.
Throughout Pippins-Poole’s tenure, the body tasked with oversight of the elections administrator has failed to hold her accountable in any way.
Ames and Warren recommended scheduling commission meetings at least twice a year following every major election for a recap of what happened, as well as to conduct an annual performance review of the administrator.
Warren said by failing to meet, the commission is relinquishing its statutory obligation.
“The question is: Why aren’t we meeting?” Warren asked. “I think this commission should take that responsibility back.”
The Election Commission will meet again in a few weeks to consider candidates.