Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies plan for subtle presence at polls to help combat voter intimidation

Election

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — At the first presidential debate last month, President Donald Trump told his supporters to head to the polls — but not just to vote.

“I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully,” Trump said. “Because that’s what has to happen. I am urging them to do it.”

Democrats and voting rights groups sounded the alarm, concerned that a flood of people heading to the polls to “watch” would lead to voter intimidation, particularly if those supporters showed up armed.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says he’s been working closely with Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Julie Marcus to make polling places safe. But he’s conscious of the balancing act his deputies need to perform because he doesn’t want to put voters off with armed law enforcement at the polls either.

“I just don’t want to get too deep into the specifics because we’re trying to balance it,” Gualtieri told 8 On Your Side. “But I’ll say it’s a combination of uniformed personnel who will be in the area and also we’re gonna use some undercover personnel just to monitor the situation.”

It is illegal in the state of Florida to bring a gun to a polling place, and Gualtieri says intimidation won’t be allowed either.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister had the same message for voters in his county.

“We’ve worked very closely with Craig Latimer, the supervisor of elections. We’ve got a plan in place. We’re extremely prepared,” he said. “We put out a memo to all our deputies to ask them to be vigilant of all the polling sites in our area. We’re extremely ready. We’re gonna do everything we can to make sure that every single citizen in our community knows that it’s safe to go vote.”

The Biden-Harris campaign put out a statement in response to voter intimidation efforts in Florida on Tuesday.

“In the United States of America, we cannot and will not stand for any behavior that could intimidate voters from participating in our democracy. Our country stands for freedom, liberty, and democracy, and these scare tactics have no place in our state,” the statement said. “It’s clear that those running scared will try anything in the closing weeks of the election. There are no excuses for this behavior. We are committed to making sure every Floridian can vote and every vote is counted.”

As for President Trump’s suggestion, not just anyone can be a poll watcher.

Gerri Kramer of the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office said poll watchers must be affiliated with a candidate or political party, and they have to be registered voters within the county where they are going to watch. Their names are provided to the elections office, where they are verified and credentialed.

One poll watcher per party or candidate is allowed at a polling place at one time. They have to stand in a designated area, and they can’t speak to voters, only to the clerk.

Kramer said the deadline has now passed to submit names for poll watchers on Election Day. It was Tuesday at noon.

Watch 8 On Your Side’s weekly political show Battleground Florida every Sunday morning at 9:30 right before Meet the Press.

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