Two Republican election workers in Democrat-controlled Dallas County were fired Saturday for not wearing a mask, despite Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and the Secretary of State not making it mandatory for voters and election workers. A Dallas County commissioner called out State Elections Director Keith Ingram for encouraging counties to ignore Abbott’s exemption, and the election workers have now appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas.
On Saturday morning, October 17, Republican election workers Lynn Davenport and Meg Bakich were fired from working the United Methodist Church polling location in University Park for not wearing masks.
Similar complaints have been made in Comal and Williamson counties.
Four days earlier, Bakich, Davenport, and three other poll workers were all told they had to wear a mask during their shift.
On Saturday, Dallas County’s election administrator, Tony Pippins-Poole, forwarded the following directive from County Judge Clay Jenkins and the county commissioners:
“I voted against the court’s order requiring universal masking at polling sites in defiance of the governor’s order, largely because the conflict seemed obvious on its face,” Republican Commissioner J.J. Koch told Texas Scorecard.
“Unfortunately, the Dallas district attorney’s office opined contrary to the conflict in plain language. Then, in an incredible show [of] disregard for the governor’s office and authority, 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.”
“Fortunately, the attorney general’s office made clear the absurdity of the conflict and counseled Dallas County to stop its unlawful disregard of the governor’s orders,” he continued. “I am extremely disappointed in State Elections Director Keith Ingram for his role in this incident and his continuing inability to hold Dallas County Elections to the minimum standards for holding a lawful election.”
Davenport also spoke with Texas Scorecard, recalling Saturday’s events.
Linda Collins, the GOP alternate judge, said we can’t work without a mask. And we said, “Yes, we can.”
That wasn’t the end of it, according to Davenport and Bakich; Collins returned with Dallas County Early Voting Manager Laura Granado.
“She and Laura Granado told us that we cannot work without a mask,” Bakich said.
“They kept saying that they [wanted] us to leave,” Davenport continued. “I knew that it was taking them a long time to get any kind of clarification. Then they finally came back in with the cop.”
Despite bringing up the exemption in Abbott’s mask mandate, Davenport and Bakich were fired and made to leave or risk being charged with criminal trespass.
Neither Granado nor Collins replied to press inquiries from Texas Scorecard before publication time.
In July, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide mask mandate, going back on his word that such mandates would infringe on individual liberty. Previously, he had banned local governments from issuing such mandates, though he later opened the door for them to punish businesses if they didn’t require employees and customers to wear masks.
But Section 8 of Abbott’s statewide mask mandate specifically exempts voters and election workers.
Last Wednesday, Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a reminder of this exemption to county administrators across Texas.
Additionally, voting locations, during the hours of voting, are under the Texas Election Code and Secretary of State. The Secretary of State has only asked individuals to consider wearing a mask.
Despite Texas’ top Republican leaders being united on this point, Dallas County’s Republican Party Chairman Rodney Anderson asked supporters to agree to Dallas’ mask mandate for voters and election workers.
Anderson did not respond to an inquiry on this letter before publication time. When asked for a statement on Saturday’s events, Anderson declined, saying, “We only have secondhand information.”
“As the party chair, I was contacted on Saturday morning by one of the other individuals not named above who was also let go, and we had a discussion regarding the incident,” he said. “Other than that conversation, I have no further information that has not been passed on to RPT Counsel.”
The city of Southlake in Tarrant County had a similar mask mandate for voters until citizens pointed out the contradiction with exemptions put in place by Abbott and the county. At that point, Southlake Mayor Laura Hill apologized, took responsibility, and reversed course.
When Davenport and Bakich were asked how they felt about what happened on Saturday, they gave sobering replies.
Davenport said she felt violated.
“It made me feel like I wasn’t living in a free country anymore … that laws don’t matter,” Bakich said. “It’s lawlessness. We’re following the law, yet we’re being threatened that we’ll be arrested for criminal trespassing. And we are removed from our right to work because we are following the law and choosing to breathe freely.”
Attorney Warren Norred, representing Davenport, Bakich, Laura and Elizabeth Biesel, and Burroughs, has filed 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 reads. “Relators seek mandamus to instruct Dallas County to follow Gov. Abbott’s executive order GA-29 regarding face coverings, allowing clerks to work without face coverings, re-employing clerks who were fired, and void face-covering terms in any Dallas County contracts with election poll host sites.”
“While the Davenport, et al. lawsuit seeks to hold Dallas County accountable, I am hopeful that the people of Texas will hold the Secretary of State and the governor accountable for the extremely poor job Keith Ingram has done,” Koch wrote. “Mr. Ingram needs to be relieved of his duties.”
When asked about the lawsuit, Anderson said, “It is pending litigation, and as such, we have no comment.”
Concerned voters may contact their state senator, their state representative, and Gov. Abbott.
If you or anyone you know encounters mask mandates when voting, please contact us at email@example.com.
This article has been updated since publication.