OPINION: Florida leaders need to address voter intimidation issue
Voters all over Florida are being intimidated at early voting locations, and the state government has yet to even address the issue as incidents keep piling up.
As voter intimidation becomes a big problem in this election, Florida should not only recognize that the issue is happening, but also encourage safe voting and take steps to make sure no voter is ever afraid to cast their ballots.
Reports of voter intimidation have been appearing all over the state. On Oct. 26, early voting locations in Lantana were met with Trump supporters yelling at supporters of former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden from outside of the 150-foot radius set up around the polls where campaigning is prohibited.
Many voters have also been receiving emails warning those who haven’t voted yet to “vote for Trump or else.” The Washington Post said many of these emails were allegedly sent by the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, although the Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe later revealed the emails to be part of an Iranian voter intimidation scheme.
On Oct. 21, two people suspected of voter intimidation were wearing security uniforms at a downtown St. Pete early voting location with concerned staff members reporting that at least one of them was armed. Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Julie Marcus said the pair claimed they were hired by the Trump campaign, though this claim was denied by the campaign soon after.
A majority of citizens, and especially younger voters, are worried about the election next month, according to an August poll from NBC News that said 55% of people in the U.S. are not confident that the November election will be conducted fairly.
To make matters worse, President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., has asked supporters to join the campaign’s poll-watching group called “Army for Trump” in a video he tweeted last month, calling on every “able-bodied man and woman” to join and help monitor early voting sites.
This is voter intimidation and suppression. When minorities arrive at polling locations and see armed individuals claiming to be a part of Trump’s army, they have reason to be scared. During Trump’s administration, hate crimes involving personal attacks motivated by bias or prejudice reached a 16-year high in 2018, according to The New York Times.
A few states have already taken steps to prevent it. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson issued direction to local election clerks statewide to prohibit open carry of firearms on Election Day in polling places, clerk’s offices and absent voter counting boards to ensure Michigan voters feel safe to freely vote in their state, according to Michigan’s government website.
Although the decision was blocked by Michigan’s courts for not following the proper procedure to enact such a law, the secretary of state’s bold move is admirable. While Florida has not made any official remark about the situation, voters can have some solace knowing that local groups are stepping up to be the change our state needs right now.
The Tampa Alumni Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority organized a “Parade to the Polls” to promote safe and healthy voting during this time of uncertainty. Its president, Tayanna Richardson, wanted to give voters the confidence to go out and vote.
“We are promoting healthy voting in the middle of this pandemic,” Richardson told Channel 8 News on Oct. 24. “We wanted to mobilize a large-scale event that allows the community to see the importance of voting.”
Almost 150 cars full of voters were able to make it to polling locations and vote over the weekend thanks to the local organization.
Acts like this draw a distinct contrast to groups that set out to intimidate voters. This is how members of political groups and local leaders should be acting to ensure that everyone in their community gets the chance to vote. We need to make sure that nothing gets in the way of voters casting their ballots from now until Nov. 3.