Republican election workers fired for not wearing masks—which aren’t required, according to exemptions in Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask mandate and guidelines from the Secretary of State—were denied an appeal by the Supreme Court of Texas. This is the second action by the court that threatens the integrity of Texas elections.
On Wednesday, the Texas Supreme Court denied a request for a writ of mandamus (“an extraordinary court order because it is made without the benefit of full judicial process, or before a case has concluded”) from two Republican election workers who were fired for not wearing masks on October 17.
Lynn Davenport and Meg Bakich of Dallas County were fired despite exemptions in Abbott’s statewide mask mandate, and Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a reminder of this exemption to county election officials across Texas.
The Secretary of State—who has authority over polling locations during voting hours—issued guidelines only asking voters and poll workers to consider wearing a mask.
Dallas County commissioners defied both by passing their own mask mandate for election workers, encouraged by Texas’ elections director.
“State Elections Director Keith Ingram flatly stated to Dallas County Elections and the concerned parties that the governor’s order is merely a suggestion and that his office supports counties making their own decisions regarding their elections,” said Republican Commissioner J.J. Koch, who voted against the county mandate.
In his Capitol Hall report, State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood) took Ingram to task for his office’s actions. “The Texas Elections Office has placed its authority above that of Governor Greg Abbott by advising local governments to disregard the Governor’s Executive Order GA-29,” he wrote.
Hall says this isn’t just about masks, but the integrity of our election. “Without independent poll watchers from both major parties, there is no real assurance that the original intent of the voters is reflected in the official published results.”
Davenport said she felt violated when fired, and Bakich said she felt like she “wasn’t living in a free country anymore.”
Arlington Attorney Warren Norred, representing Davenport, Bakich, Laura and Elizabeth Biesel, and Lisa Burroughs, filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the Texas Supreme Court.
“The core issue in this case is whether a political subdivision in Texas can flout a duly-enacted Governor’s Order,” the filing read.
“I feel like this has nothing to do with COVID or masks,” Davenport told Texas Scorecard after the announcement. “This is about power, control, and submission.”
Hall notes the mask mandate issue isn’t the only area in which the Secretary of State’s Elections Division has made questionable decisions affecting Texas’ election integrity. He mentioned in his report that “over the past several years,” the state elections office has issued “irrational waivers for things like zero tapes, tally tapes, countywide voting, etc.”
“A few weeks ago, when counties wanted to have multiple mail-in ballot drop-off locations spread throughout each county, the TEO took the initiative to prohibit poll watchers from observing the official election activities at these locations,” Hall wrote.
He goes on to say the mask mandate issue “begs the question of how far the TEO is willing to go to reduce election security.”