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Benson says open carry of guns will be banned at polling places

Polling place
Rebecca Williams
Michigan Radio
A polling location in Brighton, Mich.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said she’s using her authority to ensure fair and orderly elections to ban openly carrying firearms at polling places.

She issued the directive to election clerks Friday. It states:

“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. 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.”

Spokesman Jake Rollow said Benson has the authority absent any law that says she cannot ban guns at polling places, despite a state law that allows the open carry of firearms in public places.

He said the directive will help insure people can vote without feeling threatened during a very heated election. The directive says openly carried guns won’t be allowed within 100 feet of a polling place, clerks’ offices where absentee ballots are dropped off, and absentee ballot counting boards.

“You can’t be intimidated,” said Rollow, “and open carry is one of the things that can be intimidating, and so that is actually not allowed in the context of a voting location.”

But gun rights advocates says Benson is stretching the limits of her power.

“Just being worried about something happening, that doesn’t entitle you to unilaterally trounce everyone’s rights,” said Tom Lambert of the group Michigan Open Carry. He said the directive violates Second Amendment gun rights, as well as First Amendment free speech rights.

Lambert said the act of openly carrying a firearm to the polls is a political statement.

“I think she’s crazy if she thinks this is going to hold up in court,” said Lambert. “It’s clearly an affront to otherwise protected political speech, and as the Supreme Court has held numerous times, political speech is at the core of the First Amendment.”

Lambert says he’s not sure there’s enough time.

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Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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