Neither mincing words nor coddling candidates, Flagler County Elections Supervisor Kaiti Lenhart on Monday issued a sharply-toned warning to all election candidates, their committees and supporters that “there is a zero-tolerance policy from this point forward” regarding any violation of polling-site rules, whether it’s trespassing the 150-foot no-solicitation zone, approaching vehicles to peddle campaign literature, blocking traffic, using bullhorns or transgressing poll-watcher rules inside polling places in any way that could intimidate voters.
The zero-tolerance approach will be enforced by 39 poll deputies and on-call alternates assigned to early voting sites and the 24 polling places, or precincts, on Election Day, Nov. 3. That’s up from 25 deputies in 2016, clearly a signal that this year’s election is requiring more vigilance even though with the surge in mail balloting, fewer people are expected to vote in person. As of today, 14,307 Flagler residents, or 15.5 percent of eligible voters, had voted, already exceeding the total number of people who voted by mail in 2016 (13,423).
Poll deputies are deputized by the sheriff but are civilians, in civilian clothes, are not armed, are trained and paid by the Supervisor of Elections and are responsible for maintaining order at voting sites. On Election Day itself, 31 poll deputies will be deployed at voting sites, with more than one at some sites.
Lenhart said the email was prompted by voters “contacting our office to express their concern of potential voter intimidation ahead of this election,” itself the likely result in part of repeatedly aggressive messages to supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully” for election issues, “because that’s what has to happen. I am urging them to do it,” he said near the end of the presidential debate with Joe Biden in September.
Locally, a Democratic Party rally in Palm Coast’s Town Center was the target of an obscenity-laced video and in-person intimidation by a Trump supporter in late September, drawing an explicit rebuke by Sheriff Rick Staly. Lenhart mentioned the incident and the sheriff’s subsequent cautions in her email to candidates. And for Lenhart, the primary had been an eye-opener.
“During the Primary Election, candidates and campaign workers repeatedly violated the no-solicitation zone at the Library during early voting,” she wrote. “They were reprimanded by myself, in person, and I followed up with an email to all candidates explaining the law. I also contacted Sheriff Staly and shared the law with him to make him aware, as his deputies do not enforce laws related to elections everyday. If we have a disturbance at any of our polling sites, Sheriff Staly encouraged me to contact the FCSO immediately. I intend to do so on the first issue related to polling place accessibility or voter intimidation. I’ll say that again for those in the back… there is a zero-tolerance policy from this point forward. We’re all adults and those of you involved in the Primary have been made aware of the law.”
In an interview, Lenhart said Flagler has not had a history of serious disruptions at election time and she did not expect it to start this year. Even during the mercurial years of former Elections Supervisor Kimberle Weeks, who could be personally abrasive and political in disputes she stirred all the way to the Canvassing Board, the election process itself remained sound and polling places safe but for the usual minor infractions. This year’s infractions have increased not just because Trump is himself encouraging disruption, but because Florida law changed in one significant regard: the no-solicitation zone has been expanded to 150 feet, making it somewhat difficult for candidates in some precincts, where properties are narrower, to campaign. Still, the concerns about early voting and Election Day disruptions locally persist.
“We have heard of these concerns, some people have reached out to me directly over concern of voter intimidation or the safety of voting. While we’re not going to release our contingency plans,” Staly said, “we’re going to do everything legally to ensure that all voting locations are safe and that they can exercise their constitutional right without intimidation.” Of the polling deputies he swore in, he said: “A polls deputy under the statute has the authority to maintain peace at a voting locations. While they have limited authority, they are in fact a deputy sheriff for the purposes of that polling site.”
But the sheriff is mindful of not wanting his own troops to seem intimidating, either, in essence countering a suggestion by the presidents that polling places teem with law enforcement. “We’re going to have everything,” Trump said in a Fox News interview in late August. “We’re going to have sheriffs, and we’re going to have law enforcement, and we’re going to hopefully have U.S. attorneys and we’re going to have everybody, and attorney generals. But it’s very hard.” Federal law prohibits even the president from sending “armed men at any place where a general or special election is held,” unless polling sites are under attack by “enemies of the United States.”
“There is no doubt that this is about instilling fear and depressing participation in communities of color,” Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law told the Washington Post.
Staly had been sensitive to the issue regardless of the president’s recent comments. “We’ll keep an eye on the voting locations but we do that as minimally and discreetly as we can because we don’t want a patrol car to be perceived as voter intimidation,” the sheriff said said, “so we’ll monitor it for traffic and disturbances but within reason, in other words we’re not going to station deputies in voting locations because in some parts of the county that could be perceived as voter intimidation.”
The focus in Flagler has been on candidates and their campaign volunteers. “The vast majority of our candidates and campaign workers have been extremely respectful and well-behaved during this election year. Kudos!!!” Lenhart wrote. “I do not expect to have to call the Sheriff’s Office, however, I certainly will not hesitate if or when needed. My first priority is ensuring the safety of voters and our election workers.”
Leaders of the Flagler Democratic and Republican parties are agreeing on very little but both applauded Lenhart’s approach. “Her email is exactly what I expected it to be and I’m glad that she’s taken a zero-tolerance approach,” Jearlyn Dennie, who heads the Republican Executive Committee, said today.
“We cannot tell you how happy we are about that” email, Mike Cocchiola, who heads the Flagler County Democratic Party, said.
“The REC as a whole we don’t believe in intimidation tactics but we are watching our polls, that’s a normal practice for us to have poll watchers and poll workers,” Dennie said. Is she worried about voter intimidation when early voting begins in Flagler next Monday? “From our group? From the REC? No. Am I worried about the other group? Yes,” she said of Democrats. “We’ve gone from our signs being damaged to being stolen.”
Cocchiola called Dennie’s charge disingenuous–and said he’d told her as much himself. “I’m not aware of any Democrats who have knocked down any signs. She’s being disingenuous. We have lost well over 200 to 300 signs that have been taken down or disrupted,” Cocchiola said, acts suggestive of potential intimidation ahead. “We put up four large signs, two of them were immediately defaced, one was smashed the other one was spray painted or inked in, ‘pedophile.’ So it’s disingenuous for Pastor J to make reference to the Democrats we have not touched a sign. Our people know what the rules are.” (Dennie is broadly known as Pastor J.)
But Cocchiola made a distinction between Republicans in general and what he called “Trumpies,” who are his principal concern. “We do have concerns because we do know there are a few outliers out there that are uncontrollable, and we know there were infractions, we watched them during the primary,” Cocchiola said, “not so much intimidation but just simply infractions of the rules. We are concerned about that.” He described “Trumpers” set up at the public library off Palm Coast Parkway, one of three early voting sites, where individuals from the group were chasing the cars and trying to hand out materials to them within the 150-foot barrier. “That bothered the heck out of us because that is voter intimidation,” Cocchiola said. “We are concerned about that kind of intimidation, that kind of aggressiveness.”
Ed Danko, a candidate for Palm Coast City Council and a spokesman for the Trump Club in Flagler, said “we have no plans to monitor the polls.” He said the group discussed it “a while ago and we decided we weren’t going to be involved.”
NPA Voter in 32137 says
Bravo, Supervisor Lenhart. And thank you to the Sheriff for vowing to back this up. What have we come to when fringe elements ON BOTH SIDES behave like children. Each party has its share of guilty offenders so stop pointing fingers at each other. Let’s not go through another 9/11 before we can be united as Americans for a common cause. Ms. Lenhart and her team do an outstanding job as evidenced by the fact that she was unopposed in her re-election effort this year). They are all dedicated, honest, competent, thorough, and completely professional. I do not happen to be of the same party affiliation as she, but know her to be completely fair and non-partisan when it comes to the election process.
Anyone found attempting to intimidate anyone anywhere near a polling place should be arrested and fined heavily. Let our voting process do the work for which it was intended and then let’s move forward afterward and FIX things so that we act a little more civilized and intelligent moving forward.
Jan Reeger says
I (with my mask on) will be exercising my voting right at the poll on election day as I always do. I did so in the primary and Kaiti had the polling place all set up for covid-19 safety. I don’t expect problems but we all have the Sheriff’s numbers.
Plain and simple says
If there is threats of 0 tolerance and deputies hidden in plain clothes at every location then me and my family will not be able to vote. The sheriff has made his intentions towards minorities very clear.
Mike Cocchiola says
It is not too late to get a vote-by-mail ballot. Contact the SOE office at 386/313-4170.
This should be aimed at the intolerant left.
Helpful reminder that “alt-right” rhymes with “all white”
And here we go. Cant just excercise your Right to Vote but jump in head first with the Intolerant Left. Not all Democrats are left IMO the Majority are the middle of the road. Just remember the disease , violence, chaos, protests are all under the Rights Administration. Deal with it.
Reality check: It’s not the “intolerant left” that paraded with Trump signs, banners in front of voters attempting to vote in Virginia. It’s not the “intolerant left’ who are in court all over the country right now suing to make it harder to vote, limiting ballot drop-off points, etc. and threatening to have “poll watchers” monitor all the “bad stuff” Trump claims is going on. By the way, poll watchers are officially designated by local election officials.
For the local Trumpists…a MAGA hat and a gun do not make you a “poll watcher” despite what the authoritarian wannabe in the White House thinks.
Not a unicorn says
Thank you Joe. Also, it wasn’t the “intolerant left” ( which is a misnomer), who planned and attempted to kidnap and harm the Governor of Michigan. Thank God for the FBI watching and arresting these alt right terrorists before they could carry out their evil. What do you expect when you have a president that tells them to “stand back and stand by?” So shameful.
Real voter fraud:https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/council-national-policy-video/2020/10/14/367f24c2-f793-11ea-a510-f57d8ce76e11_story.html
Edith Campins says
I have personally had the experience of at least 30 of the Democratic signs I have legally placed being stolen. I have also heard from countless neighbors and friends that they are afraid to place Biden/Harris signs on their yards because they are afraid of being bullied by their trump supporting neighbors. I have also been shouted at and given the finger while driving trump supporters. I have never responded in kind. Considering the abuse my fellow, peaceful demonstrators have received at rallies it is evident we are not the ones being intolerant.
Get out and vote it is our right and don’t let anyone intimidate you.
Percy's mother says
Is there another planet I can go to? To live on?
Swale Heaven says
I put a Trump 2020 sign out front of my house last week. I staked it up behind my swale which holds about 2 ft of muddy snake filled water all the time. But I weed whack the tall grass in the swale so it looks even with my yard. Low and behold last Saturday night around 12:00 I heard a splash out front. I opened my door and saw a woman screaming at her boyfriend to help her cause she fell in my swale. The boyfriend yells get the sign, she says ” F U stupid sh*t I’m soaking wet “. She finally climbs out and runs to the little car and hops in and they take off….. My sign is fine……. I just about peed my pants watching this idiot….
So the FCSO wont back a mask mandate to potential save lives but He will back up stealing a stupid sign out of a yard. Yeah I know its against the Law but doesnt sound right to me and who would waste their time anyway. Vote accordingly
First off, anyone who touches another’s property with malice or I’ll intent is straight up trash. With that said, I vote for who I WANT to, not for who a party tells me to vote for. I vote in person. And I dont turn my yard or car into a mobile political statement for any party or person. I’m a Libertarian and I think for myself.
I consider myself middle of the road in politics, I reluctantly support trump because I cant stand biden/harris ,just like I couldnt stand clinton, my experience with most people is pretty mellow because I am pretty mellow except when someone pushes me. I was in walmarts parking lot talking to a young lady when a white boy ,about 30 years old spit on my truck /trump sticker , he didnt realize I was the trucks owner ,walked over to him and told him to wipe it off, he said fuck you and raised his hand at me,I gave him a little bit of pain and told him to wipe it off or lick it off,his choice. once he stopped crying he wiped it with his shirt.I dont think all democrats are this way however it seems like there are more democrats that fit this little crybaby entitled brat lifestyle. That being said my wife and I will be voting for trump and there is not a person on the planet who will intimidate us.