Trump’s push for voter intimidation is working as armed Florida men claim to have been hired by his campaign

Trump’s push for voter intimidation is working as armed Florida men claim to have been hired by his campaign
President Donald J. Trump applauds as he disembarks Air Force One at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport in Johnstown, Pa. Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, and is greeted by guests and supporters. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

During his first debate with former Vice President Joe Biden on September 29, President Donald Trump urged his supporters to serve as poll watchers. Trump's critics have been arguing that Trump was promoting voter intimidation and encouraging would-be vigilantes, and according to reporting from Vanity Fair and Florida's WFLA News 8, it appears to be working.

WFLA (an NBC affiliate in Tampa) reports that in St. Petersburg, Florida, two armed men dressed as security guards in a tent they set up outside an early voting site "were not hired by" Trump's campaign, even though they claimed to be.

Julie Marcus, supervisor of elections in Pinellas County, Florida, told WFLA that 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, a Republican who was appointed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, also told WFLA, "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."

During his debate with Biden, Trump said, "I'm urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully." And Trump's critics have been arguing that he wasn't talking about official poll watchers, but rather, was encouraging his supporters to become vigilantes.

In Vanity Fair, journalist Eric Lutz reports that "at several sites across the country, including California and New Mexico, Trump supporters have gathered near polling sites — in some cases, worrying those waiting to vote."

In Florida, Lutz notes, an armed police officer named Daniel Ubeda "was seen near a poll wearing a face mask that read 'TRUMP 2020' and 'NO MORE BULLSHIT' on the front of it."

Attorney Steve Simeonidis, who chairs the Dade County Democratic Party, saw Ubeda near that polling place and told the Miami Herald, "He may have been going to vote. But he was in full uniform with the mask and a gun. That's voter intimidation."

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, in response to that incident, said, "It's a violation of departmental orders. A police officer is supposed to be impartial."

On October 21, the Washington Post's Joshua Partlow reported, "A wide array of complaints have been reported around the country, many involving Trump supporters, according to tips reviewed by ProPublica's Electionland project and shared with other news organizations, including the Washington Post."

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