Election officials in Minnesota learned of a private security firm’s plan to deploy ex-U.S. military special ops personnel to polling places only because a Washington Post reporter reached out to ask the officials about it.
Anthony Caudle, the chairman and co-founder of security firm Atlas Aegis told the Washington Post that he was recruiting the private security forces on behalf of a consortium of businesses and “concerned citizens” that Caudle refused to name.
Caudle said they were being hired to make sure that the “Antifas don’t try to destroy the election sites,” while insisting to the Post that voters would not be intimidated by the sight of former military personnel at the their polling places.
Minneapolis’ top election official Casey Carl disagreed, and told the Post the private security forces were not authorized to be at polling places. Secretary of State Scott Simon, likewise, said the presence of private security forces would make “things more difficult” in the event that there was some sort of unrest at a polling place.
“It’s not a good use of people’s time and money to arm themselves or others at or near a polling place,” Simon said, according to the Post.
Neither Simon nor Carl were aware of the recruitment effort, which was advertised on a defense industry job listing site, SpecOpsNet.org, when the Post reached out about the plans. The listing sought specifically a class of ex-military officials designated for the most elite special forces, the Post said.
Longstanding concerns about vigilante poll watchers and the threat of voter intimidation they present have been taken to the next level this election cycle.
President Trump has doubled down on rhetoric, which he also employed in 2016, calling for his supporters to show up to polling places to watch for supposed fraud.
His campaign has sued in court to expand its abilities to deploy poll watchers to voting sites. Meanwhile, November’s election will be the first presidential contest where the Republican National Committee can participate in poll watching activities without first getting the permission of a judge, after the 2018 expiration of a decades-old consent decree. The decree stemmed from accusations that the GOP deployed off-duty cops to patrol minority neighborhoods during a 1981 New Jersey gubernatorial election.
The Trump campaign denied to the Post any awareness or involvement in the Atlas Aegis effort. More broadly, the campaign and the RNC have stressed that they plan to diligently follow the rules around poll watching, which can serve a legitimate function for campaigns to monitor that election procedures are being followed.
Atlas Aegis’ plans appear less geared at observing vote casting itself, according to the Washington Post report, which quoted its job listing seeking security staff to “protect election polls, local businesses and residences from looting and destruction.”
It is against state law for anyone besides voters, election officials, and those certified to serve as “challengers” to be within 100 feet of a Minneapolis polling place, according to the Post. The Post also pointed to voter intimidation laws that the private security force may be in violation of, depending on its activities.
Caudle would not tell the Post where exactly his firm planned to send the “large contingent” of ex-military officials. He said his firm was focused specifically on recruiting ex-special ops personnel because “they have a better understanding of how to defuse a situation.”