ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — The mayor of St. Petersburg had a strong message on Thursday in response to armed guards being spotted outside an early voting site in his city.
“I just want to be as clear as I can about it. First off, unacceptable. Not gonna be tolerated. Voter intimidation is not going to happen in my city,” Mayor Rick Kriseman said. “It’s not going to happen in Pinellas County. We’re not going to tolerate it, we’re not gonna put up with it.”
His comments come the day after election officials in Pinellas County say two armed individuals set up a tent outside an early voting site in downtown St. Petersburg. Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Julie Marcus told 8 On Your Side the man and the woman claimed to be with the Trump campaign.
“The sheriff 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 Wednesday night.
The Trump campaign denied hiring the individuals.
“I don’t care who it was that did it. My message to whoever it was that did it is you’re wasting your money because we’re not gonna put up with it,” Mayor Kriseman said. “It’s not gonna happen here. We’re not gonna tolerate intimidation of our voters here in this city.”
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Thursday morning that the two were licensed security guards employed by a security company.
It’s a third-degree felony in Florida to have a gun inside a polling place. Because the two people were outside the voting site, the sheriff said they did not break any laws.
“Their mere presence does not constitute voter coercion or intimidation,” Gualtieri said.
Mayor Kriseman told 8 On Your Side 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,” Kriseman said. “We’ve had voting in this location for years and years. Never been an issue, no one’s life has ever been threatened. No one’s safety has ever been an issue. And it’s our intention to make sure it stays that way and people don’t feel intimidated.”
The mayor said he, along with other city and county officials, will do everything they can to protect the right to vote for citizens.
“It’s a sad state of affairs when you think about what’s happened during this election cycle. We are supposed to be one country that’s united and unfortunately, that’s not what we’re seeing,” he said. “This is the most precious right as citizens of this country that we have. People have fought and died for this right.”
Sheriff Gualtieri said starting Thursday, deputies will be stationed at all of the county’s early voting locations.