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SOS Benson wants to ban open carry at polling places. This sheriff says that doesn’t need to happen.

"Vote here" sign
Mark Brush
Michigan Radio
Livingston County Sheriff Michael Murphy says open display of firearms at polling places isn't legally a form of voter intimidation. But that doesn't mean it's a good idea, he adds.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel have appealed a judge’s October 27 decision to block a ban on firearms at polling places this year. Benson has argued that open carry amounts to a form of voter intimidation at polling places. But some gun rights advocates disagree.

Mike Murphy, the sheriff for Livingston County, recently posted a video to Facebook explaining his perspective on the issue. Stateside spoke with Sheriff Murphy about his stance on Benson’s directive, as well as how he and his team are preparing for Election Day.

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Murphy said he was disappointed by Benson’s directive.

“My initial thought was 'what the heck is she thinking?'” he said. “She never reached out to any of the locals, she never reached out to any of the local clerks, she never reached out to any of the local law enforcement.”

Benson suggests open carry at a polling place is a form of voter intimidation, which is illegal, though it has a long history in the United States. But, Murphy says, openly carrying a firearm at polling places isn’t against the law.

“Let’s face it. The fact of open carry, in and of itself, legally, is not intimidating,” he said.

He says he believes Benson is trying to ensure safe voting on Election Day, but by banning open carry at polling places—so close to the general election—she’s now drawn attention to the issue. 

“I assure you that when she shined a spotlight on this issue … there’s Joe Redneck sitting in his La-Z-Boy, saying, ‘Huh, you know what, I’m going to go open carry just because I can, and exercise my right’—which, of course, you can,” Murphy said.

But, he added, it’s not a good idea to do something simply because it’s legal.

“I would try to dissuade anybody from doing that, just because it does make folks uneasy,” he said. “If you weren’t thinking about open carrying, and you decided to, just to kind of thumb your nose at the Secretary of State—please don’t do that.”

Murphy says it’s law enforcement’s job to provide protection at polling places. As this year has come with many protests surrounding issues like public health or racial justice, Murphy says the county's law enforcement has increased their Election Day staff compared to that of previous years. But, he added, he doesn’t anticipate any problems.

“This is our fundamental right to vote. And everybody, no matter which side of the aisle, no matter which side of a particular issue you're on, everybody respects that,” he said. 

Murphy says that if someone creates unease at a polling place through open display of a firearm or even COVID-19 symptoms, he recommends clerks take the lead on getting them in and out quickly. 

“Maybe even move them to the front of the line, if that’s what it takes,” he said. “You hate to make a bunch of accommodations for folks, but on the same token, the longer that sick person or the longer that person with a rifle slung over their chest is in the polling location, that’s just going to add to that angst.”

Stateside reached out to AG Dana Nessel for comment on open carry and voter intimidation. Her office declined to comment because of ongoing legal proceedings. 

The general election is Tuesday, November 3.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Nell Ovitt.

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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