ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – With just four days until election day, and tensions high across the country, law enforcement agencies are finalizing plans for security at voting sites.
The Pinellas County sheriff recently announced he’s posting a deputy at every polling location, a little more than a week after reports of armed men outside an early voting precinct. The men, who were not arrested, claimed they were hired as private security.
Authorities in North Florida are taking notice of the continued concerns ahead of a close and contentious election.
Even with record early voting numbers, precincts will be busy on Nov. 3, the final day votes can be cast in the state. Many groups have brought up the possibility of voter suppression attempts, even armed militias hoping to influence people to vote for their candidate or avoid the polls altogether.
“The advice is for voters and poll managers not to engage,” said Nancy Abudu with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It’s advisable not to interact with those aggravators.”
Abudu’s group discussed “credible threats” Friday in their push for a fair election. Meanwhile, law enforcement is on high alert across the country.
“This year there have been some complications in other parts of the country,” said Chuck Mulligan, with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office. “So we are aware of that, or monitoring for any situations like that.”
Mulligan said deputies will be patrolling near polling sites in St. Johns County but would not be stationed at the locations.
In Jacksonville, Officer Christian Hancock said the sheriff will have extra officers on duty just in case and there’s an incident management team working – that includes police, fire, the mayor’s office, even the FBI and Secret Service.
Public information officer Ashley Spicer said Nassau County will have two deputies at each voting precinct to make sure voters feel the process is safe and fair.
Deputy Drew Ford said Clay County authorities are watching social media and other platforms closely but are not disclosing their specific security plans.
Spokespeople at all those agencies tell News4Jax they have no credible threats in their jurisdictions but are preparing just in case.
“We’ve got to be prepared for problems,” said Ken Jefferson, News4Jax crime and safety expert. “We’ve got to be prepared for it the day of the election and the days that follow the election. There could be unrest whichever way it goes.”
He noted law enforcement must walk a fine line.
Uniformed officers in front of voting locations could be intimidating for some, so it’s best they keep watch from a distance and only interact if there are problems.
“My advice for voters?” Jefferson said. “Go before Tuesday number one, if you can. If you can’t go before Tuesday, be prepared to wait, be patient, understand that tensions are high, understand that people have strong views about their candidate, which ever one it is, don’t get into an argument with anyone.”
Jefferson said even if citizens don’t hear about it, every department in America has a plan in place and is watching what’s going on closely. Federal agencies like the FBI also have special agents assigned to monitoring for and investigating elections-related crimes.
Authorities are using that phrase “See something, say something.” If you see something out of the ordinary or threatening, call your supervisor of elections office or call police.