President Trump has asked his supporters to keep an eye on polling locations. Considering the concerns many have on the right regarding voter fraud–seriously, as a box of “found” ballots ever gone for the Republican candidate?–that’s not an unwarranted suggestion. After all, poll watchers are nothing new.
However, something happened in Florida that went well beyond that.
The Trump campaign denied Wednesday that they hired two armed men who showed up to an early voting site in one of Florida’s most hotly-contested counties, after the president repeatedly called for an “army” of poll-watchers to supposedly prevent election fraud.
Pinellas County elections supervisor Julie Marcus, a Republican, said that the men, dressed like security guards, arrived at an early voting site in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, pitched a tent, and told sheriff’s deputies they’d been hired by the Trump campaign, according to WFLA, NBC’s Tampa affiliate. They also said they’d be back on Thursday.
Florida is one of only seven states that explicitly ban bringing guns to the polls, Fast Company reported earlier this week. In 2016, 85 voters reported seeing guns at the polls in more than two dozen states, according to gun control advocacy group Guns Down America.
“The sheriff and I take this very seriously,” Marcus told WFLA. “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.”
If that’s what was happening, sure. The presence of firearms is not, in and of itself, voter intimidation. It’s how those firearms are used that may cross the line, which doesn’t appear to have been the case.
Of course, guns at polling places is illegal in Florida, as noted above.
The Trump campaign has denied sending these people, though that doesn’t matter because it’s still apparently Trump’s fault.
The Trump campaign flatly denied hiring the men. “The Campaign did not hire these individuals nor did the Campaign direct them to go to the voting location,” deputy press secretary Thea McDonald told WFLA.
But given Trump’s rhetoric over the course of the campaign, it’s hardly surprising that this is happening. The campaign has boasted that it’s training 50,000 volunteer poll watchers, labeling the effort “Army for Trump.”
Volunteer to be a Trump Election Poll Watcher. Sign up today! #MakeAmericaGreatAgainhttps://t.co/3AnrRV7uSz
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 15, 2020
During the first presidential debate last month, Trump said he was “urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully,” after falsely claiming that Philadelphia elections officials were engaging in corruption by barring unapproved poll-watchers from a satellite elections office.
There’s a big damned difference between telling supporters to keep a close eye on what’s happening at their polling place and hiring armed men to go to a poll in a state where it’s illegal.
Now, is it possible that these are Trump supporters who carried the president’s request way too far? Sure. There’s even a high likelihood that’s what happened.
It’s also possible that anti-Trump folks took their guns, showed up to pretend to have been sent by the campaign in an effort to give Trump a black eye in the minds of local residents.
Either way, unless the president or his campaign actually did send these particular people to do this, it’s not on his head. His words said nothing about showing up armed in states where it’s illegal.
Yet it’s also not like the media hasn’t tried to hang everything else on the president, so what else is new?
Especially since it seems the men didn’t return on Thursday like they said they would. If they were actually sent by the campaign, you’d think they’d have gone back.