HOUSTON, TX — Around 20 to 25 Houston firefighters say they’ve been asked to cover their union and generic fire department shirts at some polling stations in Houston, despite the fact that their shirts didn’t appear to violate election law, according to the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association.
This comes after the Harris County Clerk’s Office earlier this week instructed poll workers to not allow people wearing shirts depicting the names of three progressive groups to cast ballots, earlier reports say.
Election officials have since instructed election workers to follow the letter of the law as it relates to both the progressive groups and firefighters wearing generic shirts.
Section 61.003 of the Texas Election Code states that people are not allowed to loiter or promote any candidate, measure or political party within 100 feet of a polling station’s outside door.
Brian Wilcox, the fire association’s Communications Director, told Chron.com on Thursday that some election workers interpreted the generic firefighter shirts as pro-Proposition B, which asks voters to give firefighters “pay parity” with Houston police officers. He said the association contacted numerous election judges to correct the issue.
An election official not authorized to speak on the matter acknowledged that the generic shirts are allowed at polling sites. A statement from Harris County Elections Administrator Sonya Aston said they’re also allowed to wear their uniforms.
“Firefighters are requested to remove or cover up any t-shirt, buttons, hats, etc. that promote City of Houston Proposition B,” according to the statement. “Any clothing that is part of their uniform is allowed to be worn into the polling area, just as any other emergency personnel may wear their uniform.”
Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, the county’s chief election official, told the Houston Chronicle earlier this week that the country was trying to avoid electioneering.
“That’s the whole goal,” he said. “We’re just upholding the law.”
Wilcox said that firefighters had been promoting Prop B outside polling stations, within the confines of the law. Some went inside to use the restroom or vote, and that’s when election workers asked them to cover the generic shirts.
“We spelled it out for our membership pretty clearly…and that was one of the things [we went over] — was you cant wear anything pro-Prop B,” Wilcox said.
Fire association officials added that since the election office started reminding poll workers of the law, they have only heard about two isolated instances involving generic fire department t-shirts.
One woman who is married to a Houston firefighter, Jillian Ostrewich, wrote a now viral Facebook post about her interaction with election workers who told her to cover her shirt.
She said she complied with their request to turn her generic yellow “Houston Fire Fighters” shirt inside out. But when she learned that she was allowed to wear the shirt, she wanted to make the issue as public as possible.
“I just pray that people vote with their hearts and just go out and do the right thing for the people that take care of them … no matter how they vote on this [proposition],” Ostrewich said.