LANSING, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — Michigan will not allow people to openly carry guns at or near polling places on Election Day in an effort to limit voter intimidation, the state’s top election official said Friday.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson sent the guidance to clerks just over a week members of two anti-government paramilitary groups were charged with taking part in plotting the kidnapping of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Some of the men were charged under federal law and others under state law.
Benson’s announcement also comes as some elections officials and voter rights experts nationwide are concerned about violence at the polls as a divided electorate votes in one of the most contentious elections in U.S. history. Also, President Donald Trump has been urging his supporters to go the polls and “watch very carefully,” raising concerns about possible voter intimidation.
Benson said people would not be allowed to openly carry firearms within 100 feet of polling places on Nov. 3. That rule does not apply to in-person early voting, which is already underway, and concealed guns will still be allowed, except if the polling place is at a church or school, where firearms are banned.
“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,” Benson’s guidance 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.”
State law enforcement, including Col. Joe Gasper of the Michigan State Police, supports Benson, according to a media release.
“Michigan voters have the right to vote in person on Election Day free from threat and intimidation,” Democratic Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in the release. “An armed presence at the polls is inconsistent with our notion of a free democracy.”
Election inspectors must post signs alerting voters of the prohibition, according to the guidance. Firearms can be left in vehicles parked within 100 feet of buildings.
News 8 reached out to county clerks in West Michigan on Friday to get their feedback on the ban. They’re listed below.
Allegan County Clerk Bob Genetski:
“Someone needs to give the Secretary a civics lesson. This is very similar to when the Secretary of State BROKE THE LAW and WASTED TAXPAYER MONEY by mass mailing Absentee Ballot Applications. The Secretary seems to have wished that she ran for the Legislature (the branch of government which actually does make laws) instead of Secretary of State. Michigan is an Open Carry State when it comes to firearms because there is no law that prevents citizens from openly carrying a firearm. If the Secretary wants to take away or restrict Michigan citizens’ right to carry firearms, she will need to go through the Legislature to draft a bill that does so, then allow open committee hearings whereby everyone in Michigan can attend and give his or her opinion on the bill and then have an open, public & recorded vote on the matter. After passing one chamber (the House or the Senate), that bill would go to the other chamber and a similar process. Executives in Lansing need to stop “creating laws” without the legislature. They have no legal right to do so, and doing so shuts out the PEOPLE of the state from the law making process.”
Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons:
“Kent County is doing everything possible to ensure citizens can vote safely and securely. We will protect everyone’s constitutional rights, and we will not tolerate voter intimidation of any kind. We are still reviewing the Secretary of State’s instructions and whether she has the constitutional or statutory authority to do this. Regardless of one’s position on the issue, the Secretary of State should work with the legislature to create policy as that’s the legislature’s role. Unfortunately this has not been the case all year long, and her policy decisions have resulted in lawsuit after lawsuit, creating voter confusion in an already difficult election year.”
Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck:
“We are focused on ensuring the safety of every voter and we will not allow voter intimidation of any kind. But I am concerned that this guidance did not come with specific clarification and a citation of the statute that would give the Secretary of State the authority to take this action. This guidance is contrary to my understanding of the law as I have interpreted it and as I have trained our election workers over the past 12 years. Our first objective is to ensure the security of our elections process and the safety of our voters. We have never had issues with open carry in Ottawa County, and I am concerned that guidance issued without express citation of legal authority may result in this issue being challenged in the precinct on Election Day, thus having the opposite effect in providing for the well-being of our voters and guarding against intimidation of any kind.”
Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.