Michigan, a crucial battleground state in the 2020 race for the White House, has banned the open carry of firearms within 100 feet of polling places, clerks’ offices, and absentee ballot drop-off locations on Election Day, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced in a statement to the press on Friday.
“Fair, free and secure elections are the foundation of our democracy. 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,” Benson said.
Clerks have been instructed to post signs and to notify contact law enforcement if and when there are violations.
“The presence of firearms at the polling place, clerk’s office(s), or absent voter counting board may cause disruption, fear, or intimidation for voters, election workers, and others present,” said Benson. “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.”
Benson, who as secretary of state is Michigan’s Chief Elections Officer added that “the open carry of a firearm 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.”
Michigan’s Attorney General, Dana Nessel, lauded Benson’s decision.
“Michigan voters have the right to vote in person on Election Day free from threat and intimidation. An armed presence at the polls is inconsistent with our notion of a free democracy. I stand with the Secretary in her commitment to ensure that every eligible voter who wants to vote in person can do so safely and without fear or intimidation,” Nessel said.
Top law enforcement officials also voiced their support for the temporary ban.
Colonel Joe Gasper, the director of the Michigan State Police, stressed that the priority is keeping voters safe at the polls.
“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,” Gasper said.
So did the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union.
“The Supreme Court has long recognized that polling places should be an ‘island of calm,’ free from distraction and interference,” Michigan ACLU Executive Director Dave Noble said in a news release. “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.”
President Donald Trump and his surrogates have for months been encouraging his supporters to join an “army” of poll watchers, which he claims is intended to prevent voter fraud. That, coupled with the recent surge in armed right-wing insurrections in Michigan, including a foiled plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, have heightened concerns among state officials that Trump supporters may attempt to disrupt the democratic process.
Republicans, predictably, are not happy.
“It doesn’t surprise me one bit that the secretary of state is playing these cheap political games. The idea that she must prevent people from exercising their Second Amendment rights for our elections to be safe and secure is absolutely false. Secretary Benson is fearmongering to suppress voters, and it’s appalling,” State Representative Beau LaFave said.
“While some polling locations like churches and schools are already ‘pistol-free’ zones under state statute, with limited exceptions, any unilateral action by the executive branch, secretary of state or attorney general banning firearms in other polling places is unlawful, unenforceable and a violation of citizens’ voting rights and their right to self-defense,” LaFave added. “No voter should be forced to choose between these fundamental principles. There’s no way her ban passes constitutional muster. I have no doubt a lawsuit will be forthcoming.”
But as the Detroit Free Press noted on Friday, neither the secretary of state’s nor the attorney general’s office was able to cite a statute that grants Benson – or anyone for that matter – the explicit power to impose firearm restrictions, even though voter intimidation is a crime.
A spokesman for Nessel, Ryan Jarvi, assured that “our office has researched the issue and we’re confident in the advice provided to the secretary.”
Why anyone would need a gun to vote is an entirely separate matter.
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.