Civil, voting rights groups caution police presence at Pinellas County polling places

Police presence could add to voter intimidation, groups say.

A group of civil rights and voting rights organizations is asking Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri to reconsider his decision to post two deputies at early-voting locations in the county.

Gualtieri announced the move Thursday after reports surfaced about two armed security guards who posted themselves at the downtown St. Petersburg early-voting location Saturday claiming to be working for the Trump campaign.

Several groups worry Gualtieri’s decision to respond by positing deputies at polling places could only serve to exacerbate potential voter intimidation.

“Although we appreciate your stated commitment to combating voter intimidation, we are concerned that part of your response may amplify it. Many people, especially those belonging to historically marginalized communities, find the presence of police officers themselves at polling locations to be intimidating,” the group wrote in a letter to Gualtieri.

“Black and Brown Floridians may have an especially heightened sensitivity to police presence due to the unjust killings of people of color at the hands of law enforcement throughout 2020 and in recent years, and historically.”

The group’s include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Florida, All Voting is Local, Common Cause Florida, Fair Elections Center, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, League of Women Voters of Florida, NAACP Florida State Conference, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and FLCET (State Voices.)

The letter argued police presence may be appropriate in some situations but should not be employed across the board.

“Although such presence may be appropriate if militia groups or private security genuinely threaten the personal safety of voters, these potential risks should not, and do not, justify non-emergency policing of voters of color. In other words, law enforcement presence should not be automatic, and officers should not generally be stationed at the polls preemptively. They should be deployed only in response to genuine security issues requiring their involvement,” the group wrote.

The two individuals were reportedly wearing security uniforms and were armed Wednesday at the voting location at 501 First Ave. N. in St. Pete.

They told law enforcement they were with a private security company after a concerned staff member reported their presence at a tent set up at the location. The two claimed to be working for the President Donald Trump campaign.

The Trump campaign denied hiring those individuals.

Whether the Trump campaign hired the individuals or made a direct request for them to patrol the location or not, the Trump campaign has made calls for poll watchers, though those requests have not mentioned being armed.

Trump has called on volunteers to monitor polls for potential voter fraud. His campaign created training tapes for poll watchers, which are allowed under certain rules and commonly deployed by both parties that encourage volunteers to be courteous and stick to their goal — to ensure election equipment is working properly and that votes are being properly cast.

The Trump campaign has vowed to recruit at least 50,000 volunteers to monitor polling places.

The group Let America Vote laid out a dozen examples of what they call inappropriate campaigning and possible voter intimidation.

“These wannabe vote suppressors are the direct result of Donald Trump’s encouragement of voter intimidation at the first debate. When he told his supporters to go to polling places and ‘watch carefully,’ they listened and took action. Whether they’re on the Trump campaign payroll or not, he’s to blame,” said Let America Vote president Tiffany Muller in a statement Thursday.

“Unfortunately, this is only the latest in a long string of examples of anti-democratic behavior from Trump’s supporters.”

In some places, such as Minnesota, federal officials are monitoring reports of private security contractors advertising jobs for armed guards at polling places.

A poll worker in Memphis reportedly blocked people wearing Black Lives Matter shirts from casting a ballot. In Colorado, a trailer park landlord reportedly told tenants a vote for Joe Biden would lead to their rent doubling.

Other reports have already surfaced about emails threatening voters to “vote for Trump or else!” The emails, which appear to originate from the Proud Boys group, use voters’ names and addresses. Officials now believe the emails were spoofs orchestrated by Iran.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected]


  • Sonja Fitch

    October 23, 2020 at 1:54 pm

    Until Trump is defeated And placed in jail We the people and the police have been manipulated To spook each other ! Yes we the people and the police are humans yes we the people have been harangued to scare each other! Stop! Vote for Democrats up and down ballot!


    October 23, 2020 at 2:15 pm

    Janelle Taylor is a liar. DNI and DOJ substantiated that the email threatening voters to vote for Trump were posted by Iran/Russia and made it appear as though Proud Boys had something to do with it. We know they have people of color in the Proud Boys. The racism card is a weapon used by the Left every single election cycle and it is despicable. Trump supporters have been attacked time and again for several years now. BLM/Antifa go to restaurants and peoples homes/apts. and threatens them on a regular basis. Black Panthers with clubs stood outside polling locations for both Obama elections. Monitoring polling places is not voter intimidation. Voter intimidation is when the Dems here in FL created extra ballots AFTER the ’18 election when they lost in an effort to steal that election. They intimidated and disallowed volunteers who wanted to observe the vote count in their precincts after ballots were found in cars, offices and so on. That is intimidation and it happens all the time. Trump never told anyone to intimidate voters. Another lie by this author and all on the left who approve of corruption, lying, cheating,.

  • Ray Blacklidge

    October 23, 2020 at 2:52 pm

    I feel safer voting knowing that our boys in blue are there to make sure no one interferes with my voting. OK Pinellas County wear green uniforms but you know what I mean. Law Enforcement keeps Americans safe.

  • Dr John McMahon

    October 23, 2020 at 2:54 pm

    Alert!! Attention all Florida VOTERS. As a loyal member of The brain damaged Democrat party leftist commie America hating radicals , I have proof positive that secret EVIL uniformed deputies in Florida are planning to arrest and possibly eliminate all voters of color at gun point! Those EVIL white Nazi like deputy sheriff’s are plotting to kidnap all voters of color so they can’t VOTE! It you doubt my information, just ask our resident psycho Sonja!! Now SANE people are laughing at you morons over the manufactured fake panicking of minority voters, allegedly terrified of Pole Watching uniformed deputies arresting or shooting them if they vote. Sorry losers, but you have them confused with the Democrat KKK murderer pole watchers from the 1860s!

  • Ron Ogden

    October 24, 2020 at 7:35 am

    Volunteer Republican campaigners–often grandmothers–are being harassed by PAID Democrat campaigners. Hundreds of Trump signs have been stolen from private front yards throughout Pinellas. Scores of larger Trump signs have been knocked down, defaced or broken. This is REAL-WORLD VOTER SUPPRESSION by the Democratic Party. Democracy needs security, and Sheriff Gualtieri is right to provide it.

Comments are closed.


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