PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A spokesperson for President Donald Trump’s campaign says two people who were dressed as armed security guards outside a Pinellas County early voting location on Wednesday were not hired by the campaign.
Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Julie Marcus told 8 On Your Side Wednesday night the two people set up a tent outside an early voting site in downtown St. Petersburg and claimed to be with the Trump campaign.
“Sheriff [Bob Gualtieri] told me the persons that were dressed in these security uniforms had indicated to sheriff’s deputies that they belonged to a licensed security company and they indicated – and this has not been confirmed yet – that they were hired by the Trump campaign,” Marcus said in a video interview with 8 On Your Side’s Chip Osowski Wednesday night.
8 On Your Side obtained photos from the City of St. Petersburg showing the scene outside the polling location on Wednesday.
Trevor Mallory, the Democratic candidate running to become Pinellas County’s property appraiser, was also at the early voting site on Wednesday. He went live on Facebook to show video of the armed guards.
“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,” Mallory said.
Thea McDonald, the deputy national press secretary for the Trump campaign, told 8 On Your Side the campaign did not hire the individuals at the site.
“The campaign did not hire these individuals nor did the campaign direct them to go to the voting location,” McDonald said in a statement.
A security company called Syotos says the female security guard seen outside the polling place is an off-duty employee who was just there picking up a relative. The owner of the company couldn’t answer any questions about the man in the pictures because he’s not an employee.
Marcus, a Republican, is running to keep her seat as elections supervisor after being appointed in May of this year by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. Gualtieri, also a Republican, is running for re-election as well.
“The sheriff and I take this very seriously,” Marcus said. “Voter intimidation, deterring voters from voting, impeding a voter’s ability to cast a ballot in this election is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in any way shape, or form. So we anticipated many things going into this election. Not only cybersecurity, but physical security and we had a plan in place and executed that plan.”
During a news conference on Thursday morning, Sheriff Gualtieri said the two individuals did not violate any laws.
“Their mere presence does not constitute voter coercion or intimidation,” Gualtieri said.
St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman told us he doesn’t feel the same.
“I can’t say I agree with him on that. There’s zero reason for anyone to be armed – openly-armed – out in front of a polling place. I can’t think of any justification for that,” he said.
The sheriff did say deputies would be stationed at all of the early voting locations in Pinellas County starting Thursday.
In the first presidential debate last month, President Trump encouraged his supporters to go to the polls to watch what happens there.
“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.”
Gualtieri spoke with News Channel 8 on Tuesday about his plans to thwart any potential voter intimidation. He said he’s been working closely with Marcus to make polling places safe.
“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 political reporter Evan Donovan. “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.”
Dustin Chase, deputy supervisor of elections in Pinellas County, told 8 On Your Side the men setup outside the Supervisor of Elections Office in the County Building, which is located at 501 First Ave. North.
Marcus told 8 On Your Side that Gualtieri plans to have a deputy presence specifically outside that polling place on Thursday.
Deputies with Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office came to the polling place on Wednesday and spoke to the guards, who said they were hired by the Trump campaign and said they would be out tomorrow at the early voting location.
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.
The Joe Biden campaign issued a statement against voter intimidation tactics in Florida earlier this week.
“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. 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.”