Florida law prohibits unofficial 'poll watchers' outside voting locations

Hillsborough's election supervisor says he is confident that state law will prevent intimidation at the voting booth if unofficial "poll-watchers" show up.

The Justice Department and FBI say they're stepping up Election Day security, bracing for unrest, given the current climate of the country. 

During last week's debate, President Trump said, "I am urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully."

Hillsborough elections supervisor, Craig Latimer, says he has heard from voters who want to find out if people are allowed to do that, fearing such actions constitute voter intimidation.

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"There has been a lot of talk about telling people just to show up to the polls to watch, and in Florida, you can't just do that," Latimer said. "People can pull in, park, and walk to the polling site without getting hindered or bothered by anybody."

The only people allowed within 150 feet of a polling location are those in line to vote and poll workers, including poll deputies, exit pollers, and those with official poll watcher credentials, which are issued by the supervisor's office.

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Official poll watchers are named by the political parties or candidates and are only allowed to talk to the person in charge of that voting site if they see something they believe needs attention.

"I don't think we are going to have the problems in Florida because we have some great laws around it," said Latimer, who also said he has not been made aware of any threats of voter intimidation to any of Hillsborough County's 26 early voting sites or 239 Election Day polling places.

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"We have had incidents at polling locations. Usually, it is people that are campaigning for a candidate get into arguments. It might go to pushing and shoving. We call law enforcement and law enforcement handles it," Latimer said.

The supervisor also said that if there are any problems, polling deputies are trained to immediately summon help from law enforcement.

Voting in Florida 2020: Tampa Bay area election guide

To make sure your vote counts, there are several things to know about early voting in Florida and voting by mail in 2020. Here is county-by-county information about voting deadlines and methods in the Tampa Bay area.