Lansing — Michigan is prohibiting the open carry of guns within 100 feet of polling places amid fears of voter intimidation during the pivotal Nov. 3 election, prompting criticism and the possibility a lawsuit from Second Amendment advocates.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson sent guidance to local election officials on Friday — 18 days before Election Day — to clarify that the open carry of firearms on Election Day in polling places, clerk’s offices and absent voter counting boards is 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," the new guidance says.
"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," it adds.
Benson, who cited her role as the state's chief election official, is working with Attorney General Dana Nessel and Michigan State Police Director Col. Joe Gasper to ensure "Michigan voters are safe and secure when voting by informing local law enforcement agencies and ensuring that the ban on openly carried firearms is enforced statewide," according to a statement from her office.
“Fair, free and secure elections are the foundation of our democracy,” Benson said. “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."
But Joey Roberts, president of Michigan Open Carry, said his organization doesn't believe Benson has the unilateral authority to impose such a policy.
Many polling places are in churches or schools, where concealed carry is already outlawed, Roberts said. A lawsuit is "being discussed," he added.
"We don't see walking in and voting with an open carry pistol as voter intimidation," Roberts said.
The decision was also criticized by Rep. Triston Cole, the Mancelona Republican who serves as the state House floor leader.
"This is an in your face unconstitutional ban," Cole said in a Facebook post. "These areas ARE NOT designated 'gun free zones.' Yes, Democrats want to take your guns and your Second Amendment rights away."
The Michigan Sheriffs Association is advising elected sheriffs across the state to consult with their corporate counsels and local prosecutors about Benson’s decision, said Matt Saxton, CEO and executive director of the association.
Law enforcement agencies are still waiting on guidance from the attorney general on the matter, Saxton said.
"It kind of puts law enforcement in the middle of this issue,” Saxton said. “Currently, law enforcement will have to follow the laws of the state of Michigan pertaining to polling stations and whether guns are allowed or not allowed.”
While Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-home and business closure orders were still in place, some sheriffs said they would not enforce the orders because they believed they were unconstitutional. The Michigan Supreme Court ended up ruling that they were.
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