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After armed guards were seen near a Trump campaign tent outside a St. Petersburg early voting site this week, the Pinellas Sheriff’s Office is placing deputies at all early voting locations.
On Wednesday, Pinellas County deputies responded to the downtown elections office after receiving complaints about two people wearing security uniforms and carrying weapons.
According to Sheriff Bob Gualteri, one of the guards told deputies they had been hired by the Trump campaign.
Gualtieri said the individuals didn’t violate any laws because they were 150 feet away from the polling site. Even so, he said uniformed officers will staff the county’s five early voting locations to stop rumors and allow law enforcement to intervene if needed.
“It’s extremely important that everyone have access to early voting sites and they have access to these early voting sites in an unfettered, uninhibited way that they feel comfortable casting their votes,” he said.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said during a news conference Thursday that “voter intimidation will not be tolerated here.”
The Trump campaign denies it hired the guards.
Trei McMullen owns Syotos, the security company where one of the guards works. McMullen said that person was off duty and picking up a family member near the polling location on Wednesday.
The Sheriffs’ Office stands by its report that the person said they had been hired by the Trump campaign.
On Friday, a group of nonpartisan civil rights and voting rights organizations sent a letter to Gualtieri, which cautioned against deploying and stationing uniformed officers. Instead they called on him to reserve deployment for locations where there are specific, articulated safety concerns.
“Although we appreciate your stated commitment to combating voter intimidation, we are concerned that part of your response may amplify it,” the letter said. “Many people, especially those belonging to historically marginalized communities, find the presence of police officers themselves at polling locations to be intimidating.”