Last weekend, two workers at the University Park United Methodist Church polling location were fired because they refused to wear masks. Toni Pippins-Poole, Dallas County’s elections administrator, has pointed out that poll workers must wear masks, per an order issued by the County Commissioners Court. The maskless poll workers point out that Gov. Greg Abbott has issued an executive order saying that while poll workers are encouraged to wear masks, they are not legally required to do so.
Similar disagreements have popped up at other polling locations. The Dallas Observer wrote about a deal up in Denton where some folks feel like maskless Republican poll workers were engaged in voter intimidation. But the only outlet that has so far reported on the UP incident has been the Texas Scorecard. That’s the right-wing outfit run by Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Empower Texans. When the mayor of Southlake reversed course on requiring voters to wear masks, the Texas Scorecard called it a “victory against coronavirus tyranny.” That’s how they roll. Bear that in mind.
So what’s going on here? I called Lynn Davenport — one of the UP poll workers who was fired, a onetime Richardson ISD school board candidate, and a singer-songwriter — to see if I could get some clarity on the issue.
First, I think what’s going on here is that right-wing outlets like the Texas Scorecard work to gin up their readers whenever possible. That’s true of pretty much all media, I guess. Their headline on the story about the UP incident: “Republican Election Workers Fired for Not Wearing Masks.” The story gets passed around on social media. Republicans get outraged without even reading the story. Democrats consider not going to the polls because they don’t want the virus. Democracy dies. Putin takes over.
I got carried away there.
In any case, Davenport told me she doesn’t even consider herself a Republican. So the Scorecard headline was wrong, in addition to being inflammatory. I tried to avoid doing that with the headline I wrote for this post. These days, the more effective your headline, the more dangerous it is to democracy. You have to assume no one will read the story. People just share headlines, and they’re more likely to share headlines that make people angry. That’s the first thing I can tell you.
The second thing I can tell you is that our governor and the Dallas County judge disagree on masks and voting.
Major side note: someone recently asked me why a judge was telling us to wear masks. Shouldn’t that be the job of the executive branch of government, not the judicial? County Judge Clay Jenkins isn’t that kind of judge. Think of him as the mayor of Dallas County. No black robe. Got it?
OK, back to the county judge and the governor. Yes, it is true: Gov. Greg Abbott says you don’t have to wear a mask when you vote or when you’re working at a polling location. Yes, Judge Jenkins says you have to wear one. Davenport and four other women petitioned the Texas Supreme Court to decide the matter. Here’s their filing. It was prepared by Warren Norred, the same lawyer who defended Shelley Luther, the salon owner who became a hero to the right wing after she refused to close her salon during the pandemic. Here’s Norred on Fox News with Tucker Carlson. But anyway, the Supreme Court declined to take up the mask incident at United Methodist.
So, legally, you are not required to wear a mask at a polling location. You can make that argument. But you know what? You also legally can fart and pick your nose at a polling location. But you wouldn’t do that because it’s rude, and certain standards of behavior apply when you go out in public.
I put that analogy to Davenport. She smartly sidestepped the issue of nose picking and farting. She said that she takes the virus seriously and is careful to observe social distancing guidelines. It was ironic, she said, that a GOP polling judge “got up in [her] face” to tell her to wear a mask, which she’d removed for two reasons: 1) it was making it difficult to breathe, and 2) it was making it difficult to communicate with voters.
I asked her if she was making a political statement by refusing to wear a mask or if she was merely finding it difficult to do her job while wearing one. “I would say both because—well, ‘political statement’ isn’t right because it’s more my right as a citizen, a free citizen, to breathe freely without a mask,” she said. “I am not sick. So you can call that a political statement, but I don’t view it that way.”
She went on: “I’ve been denied wages to work. I’ve been denied the ability to do what I love. By doing that, I believe it violates my rights.”
I thought about pointing out to Davenport that her husband is the CFO of Topgolf. Whatever wages she was denied, I figured she wouldn’t have trouble paying her mortgage. But what do I know? Maybe being the CFO of Topgolf doesn’t pay as much as I think it does.
Honestly, I have to admit that by calling Lynn Davenport, I didn’t gain much clarity. This isn’t the first election she has worked. And, in fact, this mask trouble didn’t start till the third day she’d been on the job this time around. So I don’t think she orchestrated this mess in pursuit of an agenda, despite who her lawyer is. I think she really did have a problem breathing through her mask in what she described as a hot room. And I think the disagreement between our governor and our county judge does provide legal cover for working maskless at a polling location.
But here’s the deal, man. (I can’t stop issuing that Joe Biden catchphrase to my family, including my dog.) Here’s the deal, man: even if you doubt it works, wearing a mask around other people is, at the very least, polite. Farting in public is legal but rude. So when you’re at a polling location, whether you’re casting your vote or helping someone else cast theirs, I respectfully request that you do the following: don’t fart, and wear a mask.
That’s all I can offer.
Oh, and don’t share stories on social media without reading them just because the headline fits your worldview and makes you angry.