Michigan Secretary of State: You can’t open carry at the polls

Second Amendment March at the Capitol, Sept. 17, 2020 | Laina G. Stebbins

To prevent intimidation on Election Day, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson issued a directive to local election clerks statewide prohibiting the open carry of firearms in polling places, clerk’s offices and absentee vote counting boards on Nov. 3.

“Fair, free and secure elections are the foundation of our democracy,” said Benson, a Democrat. “I am committed to ensuring all eligible Michigan citizens can freely exercise their fundamental right to vote without fear of threats, intimidation or harassment. Prohibiting the open-carry of firearms in areas where citizens cast their ballots is necessary to ensure every voter is protected.”

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson at Louis Pasteur Elementary School on Primary Election Day Aug. 4, 2020 | Ken Coleman

Under the directive, the open carry of firearms is prohibited in a polling place, in any hallway used by voters to enter or exit or within 100 feet of any entrance to a building in which a polling place is located.

“The presence of firearms at the polling place, clerk’s offices, or absent voter counting board may cause disruption, fear or intimidation for voters, election workers and others present,” Benson said.  “Absent clear standards, there is potential for confusion and uneven application of legal requirements for Michigan’s 1,600 election officials, 30,000 election inspectors, 8 million registered voters and thousands of challengers and poll watchers on Election Day.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel and Michigan State Police Director Col. Joe Gasper are ensuring that the ban on openly carried firearms is enforced statewide.

“Michiganders should know that law enforcement across multiple levels is working together to ensure that anyone who wishes to exercise their right to vote in-person on election day can do so safely and without the threat of intimidation,” stated Col. Joe Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police.

Nessel, a Democrat, said an armed presence in polling places is “inconsistent with our notion of a free democracy.”

Nessel and Michigan State Police will issue accompanying guidance to law enforcement on safety and security issues that could potentially impact the election. 

Capitol Commission member hopes news of thwarted Whitmer murder plot will spur action on gun ban

Anyone who witnesses or experiences intimidation or other unlawful conduct at the polls is asked to immediately report this to an election worker or official and document the experience as clearly as possible. 

The directive is likely to be challenged in court.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan supports Benson’s measure.

“We are in full support of Secretary of State Benson for taking steps to ensure the sanctity of polling places is protected. The Supreme Court has long recognized that polling places should be an ‘island of calm,’ free from distraction and interference,” said Executive Director Dave Noble. “Therefore, just as people are not allowed to carry signs or pass out political literature within 100 feet of polling places, people should not be allowed to openly carry guns. Voting must be easy, accessible, and free of all barriers as it is the cornerstone of our democracy.” 

Several attempts to ban firearms at Michigan’s Capitol this year following a series of armed right-wing protests have failed, as the Advance previously reported.

Allison Donahue
Allison Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.