During an interview with the Culpeper Times the afternoon before Election Day, Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins emphatically stressed that every citizen, no matter their political persuasion, should not feel intimidated at polling locations on Nov. 3.
Jenkins, a staunch Republican, said he particularly wants to ensure that liberal citizens are not intimidated.
“I don’t see the Trump supporters being as easily intimidated as the Biden supporters, and I don’t say that in a harsh way. I say that from all sincerity. I’m more concerned about Democrat supporters feeling uneasy or intimidated by the Trump people than I am concerned about the Trump people being intimidated by the others,” he said.
For example, Jenkins pointed to a scenario in which “a more liberal-minded citizen” may feel insecure wading through a large group “of loud, boisterous Trump supporters waving flags and banners and things of that nature.” These Trump supporters, he added, may potentially create a spectacle causing someone “to feel uneasy about going through that somewhat of a gauntlet of people just to approach their polling place.” In such a scenario, Jenkins expressed confidence in the compliance of Trump supporters because “it’s not that difficult to look these people in the eye and say ‘look, these people need to feel safe and free to go and exercise their right to vote and you need to step back.’”
“People have every right for freedom of speech and expression of their political views, but at the same time our poll workers that run the polls have a responsibility to see that things are orderly, that lines are drawn as to certain areas that they can or cannot hand out campaign information and place signage,” he said.
Providing security, Jenkins added, could simply entail ensuring proper traffic flow. Citing the potential that a convoy of pro-Trump vehicles settles in a parking lot, Jenkins said those individuals have the right to assemble. At the same time, he said such a gathering could block the visibility of entrances and exits at polling locations or force voters to park far away from their polling place.
“I would not be surprised to see, almost like tailgating at a sporting event, where they literally just camp out in huge numbers…And that’s what I’ve tried to discourage and if you’re going to do that make sure that you’re a good, far, safe distance back away from the polling areas so that you don’t have any type of influence or intimidation over people,” he said.
Jenkins was asked what the office’s response would be to a scenario in which armed citizens are lined up outside of polling locations openly displaying firearms. Jenkins responded that if those citizens abide by polling regulations and open carry laws, they would be closely monitored.
“I can assure you if that happens at any polling location tomorrow, they will have a uniformed deputy or two standing right beside them the entire time they’re there so that we make sure citizens know that they’re not going to be in danger,” he said. “I will put multiple deputies at every single polling station if that occurs. We will not allow our citizens to be intimidated. We will let them exercise their right to bear arms but we will not allow that spectacle to intimidate anyone.”
Jenkins said Culpeper has not seen violence on past election days but, as always, his office is prepared for all scenarios.
“We just want to see that things are orderly. Everyone needs to feel comfortable exercising their right to vote, regardless of party affiliation or support for any particular candidacy. Every single vote counts and every citizen needs to feel as comfortable as anyone else when they go to the polling places,” he said.
Recently, Jenkins explained that his office has heard concerns from citizens in all walks of life who have “general anxiety and worry” about Election Day. Mostly, he said that worry stems from the 24-hour news cycle and social media opposed to anything they have heard locally from friends or neighbors.
“So, unfortunately, that online rhetoric and talk from various groups about frustrations over election outcomes and what may take place in certain areas of the country tends to put fear in people even in the rural environment such as ours. Even though the likelihood of having any of those types of things here is very small,” he said.
Jenkins noted that there has been no intelligence from state or federal officials regarding any potential security concerns in Culpeper on Election Day but “this is an unusual time and we have some people that are feeling more anxious than in previous years.”
“We want to do everything we can to just be sure that they are able to go and freely cast their vote and not have to have any of those worries,” Jenkins said.
As is done before any election, he said the office has communicated with elected officials, heads of the electoral board and the registrar’s office to coordinate security needs on Tuesday.
“It’s very similar to any other year. Although I will admit we do have a certain number of personnel that are on standby, on-call basis, and we do have some additional personnel out actually on duty throughout the day [Nov. 3] and evening and the days to follow,” Jenkins said.
These preparations, he added, have resulted in the formation of operational plans to address any potential issues and the Sheriff’s Office will deal with any disruptions “swiftly,” regardless of the offender’s political beliefs.
Jenkins said he does not foresee any criminal violations or violence in Culpeper on Tuesday. He added that the same goes for the days and weeks after the election, saying “for our community here, I’m not concerned about any violence or any real issues post-election.” He does not have the same positive outlook for the country as a whole, saying that no matter who wins the presidential race, there will be issues elsewhere.
“Either way, we’re in for some long days for law enforcement in the coming weeks around the country. And I’m just thankful to live in the community I’m in and know that we don’t have the problems facing us that many communities do,” he said.
In a Facebook post regarding election security that spawned the Culpeper Times’ request for an interview, Jenkins stated that “we are fortunate to live in a community with strong ties of affection and respect between those of us who make our home here.”
“In the end we are all neighbors and we all know how to rely on each other in times of difficulty. I plan to rely on that strength if the need arises,” he said in the post.