On Wednesday, two armed men showed up outside of an early voting location in St. Petersburg, Florida, and when police officers questioned the individuals, they claimed to be with the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign has denied having either hired or directed the individuals, but at the first presidential debate, Trump said that he is “urging” his supporters to go out to polling places and “watch very carefully.” In this Florida case, the armed Trump supporters who may have taken the president’s admonishment to heart set up a tent outside the polling place and claimed to deputies to be part of a licensed security company, although whether this claim was true is not immediately clear.
According to Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Julie Marcus, the armed Trump supporters at the St. Petersburg polling place were dressed in security uniforms — although again, it’s not immediately clear if these personas as licensed security agents were fabricated.
Referring to local Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, Marcus commented:
‘The sheriff and I take this very seriously. 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.’
According to Marcus, the local Sheriff’s Office planned to have a Thursday presence outside of the downtown St. Petersburg polling place that the Trump supporters targeted. On Wednesday, the armed right-wingers claimed that they would be back the following day, as reported by local NBC affiliate WFLA.
The campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden issued a response to the situation in St. Petersburg. They credited the presence of the armed Trump supporters to the desperation of the GOP, although as mentioned, at this point, there is no apparent documented official link between the armed men and the president’s re-election campaign.
The Biden campaign commented:
‘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.’
Florida seems likely to end up close in the final election results, and it will also likely end up a critical addition to the wins column for whichever candidate ends up winning the presidency. As of Thursday, FiveThirtyEight says that Biden is up in Florida polls by an average of 3.8 percent, and as of that same point, they give Biden a 72 percent chance of winning the state. A Morning Consult survey conducted throughout mid-October found Biden ahead in the state by a full 7 percent among a sample of 4,685 likely voters. Biden maintains sizable leads elsewhere on the polling map, including in other swing states and on the national level.