ST. PAUL — The Tennessee-based private security firm that sparked controversy earlier this month with its plans to recruit and staff armed guards at Minnesota polling places has agreed to stay out of the state on Election Day.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a news release Friday, Oct. 23, that the firm, Atlas Aegis, had promised in writing to neither recruit nor provide security at or near voting precincts in the state. The news comes just days after Ellison's office announced an investigation of the firm.
"I want to make to make it crystal clear to anyone who is even thinking about intimidating voters that I will not hesitate to enforce the laws against it to the fullest extent," Ellison said in the release.
News of the firm's effort to recruit former military servicemembers for a Minnesota polling place security operation, first reported by the Washington Post, was immediately condemned by Ellison, who said the firm risked violating state and federal laws against voter intimidation. It came less than a week after President Donald Trump called on his supporters to monitor polling places for sings of fraud, which he has asserted without evidence will plague the 2020 general election, though the Trump campaign told the Post it was not involved in the recruitment drive.
Speaking with the Post earlier this month, company chairman Anthony Caudle denied that the presence of armed guards at voting precincts would intimidate voters.
"They’re there for protection, that’s it," he said, adding, "They’re there to make sure that the antifas don’t try to destroy the election sites."
"Antifa" refers to the far-left and sometimes violent association of activists that oppose white supremacists and other far-right groups.
A copy of the written agreement submitted to Minnesota district court judge on Friday provided more information about the origin of the poll guarding effort.
The firm was looking to aid separate, unnamed private security company in Minnesota whose clients requested protection on and around Election Day — but only for their property and employees, according to the agreement, not polling places. The Minnesota company's clients were concerned about the possibility of unrest on and around Election Day.
Seeking to provide personnel to the company "either directly or indirectly," according to a company, Atlas Aegis then solicited interest in the job but advertised that it would involve polling place security "completely of its own accord."
Statements Caudle made to the Post about Minnesota law enforcement's awareness of the armed groups' intent to guard polling places were also not accurate, according to the agreement.
"Atlas Aegis acknowledges that its statements to the Washington Post were incorrect. In making these statements, Atlas Aegis did not intend to intimidate, coerce, or threaten Minnesota voters, poll workers, or others aiding or urging Minnesota voters to vote; or to make Minnesota voters less willing to vote," the agreement reads.
The company said in the agreement that none of its officers or employees would be present in Minnesota in November and that it is not aware of any groups with similar plans to guard polling places.
No civil penalty is being imposed on the company, however it will be fined $50,000 if it violates the terms of the agreement.
In addition to intimidating voters, poll watching is also not allowed in Minnesota. Political parties in the state can, however, appoint one "partisan challenger" per polling place.
But a challenger can only lodge formal challenge with an election judge, however, based on their own personal knowledge of a specific voter's ineligibility to cast a ballot.