Florida law enforcement will be stationed at early voting sites after two armed security guards were spotted at Trump campaign tent outside a polling station.
The incident happened Tuesday in Pinellas County, Florida, where five early voting sites will remain open through November 1 ahead of the contentious presidential election.
At a St. Petersburg location, residents arriving to cast their vote alerted poll workers of the armed guards standing nearby – sparking fears of voter intimidation.
A video shared by Trevor Mallory, a Democratic candidate running for local property appraiser, purported to show the two armed security guards gathered near a campaign tent for President Trump.
‘I mean, I’m 6-foot-5, 250 pounds but still, when you see someone toting a weapon that’s not in an official police or sheriff’s office uniform, it’s a little uncomfortable. It’s a little discomforting,’ he told WFLA.
Authorities in Pinellas County, Florida, will add deputies to early voting sites after two armed security guards sparked voter intimidation concerns (pictured)
The individuals, one female and one male, wore uniforms saying ‘security’ and wore badges. Firearms appeared to be placed in a leg holster and a utility belt.
The security guards, according to The New York Times, told law enforcement that they had been hired by the Trump campaign to provide security for those campaigning on his behalf.
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said that he had ‘absolutely no confirmation’ that they were hired by Trump’s campaign, which has since denied the claim.
‘The campaign did not hire these individuals nor did the campaign direct them to go to the voting location,’ said Thea McDonald, a spokeswoman for Trump’s campaign.
The female security guard is a volunteer at the Pinellas County Republican Party headquarters.
Sen. Joe Gruters, chairman of Republican Party of Florida, told Tampa Bay Times that local party officials weren’t aware she was at the polling site. Gruters didn’t know the identity of the man.
But according to The Tampa Bay Times, the female guard worked for Syotos, a Crestview-based security company. The owner, Trei McMullen contends the whole thing is a misunderstanding.
McMullen confirmed the female guard was an employee and identified the man as her brother-in-law, who works for a separate security company.
He said the woman was not on duty at the time and was simply picking up her brother-in-law. McMullen maintained the brother-in-law was not working either.
Thea McDonald: ‘The campaign did not hire these individuals nor did the campaign direct them to go to the voting location’
The incident comes after tensions mount at polling sites, where President Trump previously vowed to send ‘an army’ of poll watchers. He encouraged his supporters to ‘go into the polls and watch very careful’ during September’s debate.
Fears about voter intimidation set in after the incident and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman reiterated that ‘there’s zero reason for anyone to be armed, openly armed, out in front of a polling place.’
‘Voter intimidation is not going to happen in my city,’ he said during a press conference. ‘It’s not going to happen in Pinellas County.’
Kriseman added on Twitter that residents should ‘contact law enforcement if you witness any form of intimidation, including the presence of armed security guards.’
Mayor Rick Kriseman spoke out against the incident and said ‘voter intimidation will not be tolerated here’
Pictured: Cythina Holmes is seen after voting at the St. Petersburg College polling site in Pinellas County ahead of the election in St. Petersburg
However, Gualtieri contended that while the security guards’ presence may have made some feel uncomfortable, it did not violate voter intimidation laws.
‘All of a sudden two people arrived, they were wearing tan khaki pants, they had on blue polo shirts with a security guard insignia on them,’ he said, per The Times.
‘They were also armed and they were wearing gun belts and they had firearms. That caused some concerns because of the heightened awareness.
‘Their mere presence does not constitute voter coercion or intimidation. Some people may see these people here and it doesn’t give them a great feeling. On the other side of the coin, it may give others a good feeling, because they feel protected.’
The decision to add uniformed deputies to polling sites is a policy reversal for the department, who previously said they would not be present to avoid making residents feel uneasy.
But now, ‘Deputies will be there as a resource and to be a calming presence so people know they do have unfettered, unrestricted, unintimidated access to those early voting sites,’ said Gualtieri during a press conference.
‘I hope what it does is make people feel comfortable.’
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri: ‘Deputies will be there as a resource and to be a calming presence so people know they do have unfettered, unrestricted, unintimidated access to those early voting sites’
Tensions between law enforcement and civilians erupted this summer after a wave of protests against racial inequality, police brutality and the law enforcement institution.
Authorities across the country have struggled to keep open, ongoing communication and assurance in some communities that have become increasingly distrustful.
The League of Women Voters cautioned that police presence could also deter some voters amid the present social climate.
Dan Helm, a Democrat running against Marcus for supervisor of elections, shared the sentiment in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times.
‘The problem was: the presence of individuals carrying guns that intimidate voters. The solution cannot be: the presence of individuals carrying guns that intimidate voters.’