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Denton County poll workers raise concerns over voter intimidation, not following protocol from anti-mask coworkers

Denton County poll workers raise concerns over voter intimidation, not following protocol from anti-mask coworkers

Denton County poll workers raise concerns over voter intimidation, not following protocol from anti-mask coworkers
November 12
08:30 2020

Denton County poll workers allege their coworkers and supervisors’ anti-mask sentiments and breach of protocol intimidated voters, specifically at the North Branch Library polling location, during the 2020 elections.

Local resident Chad Withers worked the polls at the North Branch Library polling location but left his second day after feeling consistently “intimidated” by an anti-face mask supervisor and coworkers.

“I felt intimidated as a poll worker and as a voter because of what [the anti-mask workers] were doing,” Withers said. “It’s just ignorance — it’s really frustrating. They’re accepting these responsibilities and are choosing to be so flagrant about their disregard for the community’s health.”

In July, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide executive order requiring the use of face masks. However, voters, poll workers and other election officials are exempt from this order but “strongly encouraged” to wear a face covering. In early October, Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to state election officials reminding them of this exemption following reports that maskless election workers were being barred from their duties. 

Withers said the head poll worker at the North Branch Library was very “adamant” and “vocal” in expressing her views to voters and coworkers that face masks were not an effective method of protection against COVID-19. Withers said multiple masked voters expressed their concern and discomfort to both the head poll worker herself, as well as other staff members. 

While poll workers are required to ask voters if they want a ballot in Spanish or English, Withers said the anti-mask workers instead only asked if voters wanted an English ballot. Withers said one of the anti-mask workers asked a voter “you want your ballot in American, right?” 

“That attitude was pervasive,” Withers said.

When the library (but not the polling location) closed due to a staff member testing positive for COVID-19, Withers observed the head poll worker tell voters that this was proof masks did not work.   

“It’s easy to ask a common person to wear a mask but it’s harder when it’s the person in charge of whether your vote is being counted or not,” Withers said. “It was hard as a worker to say this is not right, so I can’t imagine what it would be like for a voter.”

The Denton County Elections Office did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations.

After leaving his position at the North Branch Library, Withers was reassigned to another Denton County polling location. All of his coworkers there wore masks during early voting. On Election Day, while working at a third polling location, Withers encountered another lead clerk who did not wear a mask.

Two more poll workers, Rick and Jan Jacobson, quit their positions at the Lantana Community Center in Denton County after the lead poll worker refused to wear a mask, according to NBC.

“I thought it was important to have people there so everybody can vote,” Rick told NBC. “But I wasn’t willing to risk our health when someone doesn’t want to wear a mask and expose us.”

Another poll worker, a local resident who requested to stay anonymous, spoke to the Daily about her own experiences. While she voted at the Gateway Center on campus, where nobody was maskless, she then worked at the North Branch Library location. 

The resident described around “20 percent” of her coworkers were anti-mask, including the lead poll worker. It is unclear if this was the same head worker that Withers encountered.  

“Several voters complained to me though,” she said. “I had to just tell them that there was nothing I could do because masks weren’t required in the polling location, even though they are technically required in the library.”

She also expressed concerns with the location’s cleaning operation and said “it wasn’t clear why” some clerks wanted to minimize the number of cleaning products used on the voting booths after each use.

City Council Member Paul Meltzer said he was “pretty impressed at the attention to protocols” and what he saw at polling locations was “very good.” When Meltzer voted at the Civic Center, people were appropriately spaced out in lines, pens were wiped down after each use and plexiglass shields were placed in between voters and poll workers.  

“I just know what I saw as a voter myself,” Meltzer said.  

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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Ileana Garnand

Ileana Garnand

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