Michigan on Friday prohibited the open carry of firearms in and near polling places on Election Day amid fears of voter intimidation.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, the state’s top election official, announced to local election clerks statewide that the open carry of guns will be prohibited in polling places, clerk’s offices and absent voter counting boards on Nov. 3.
“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,” the new guidance said. Concealed guns will be allowed, except in cases where the polling place already bans concealed carry weapons.
“Fair, free and secure elections are the foundation of our democracy,” Benson said in a statement. “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.”
The statement said Benson will be working with Attorney General Dana Nessel and Michigan State Police Director Col. Joe Gasper in ensuring the ban is enforced throughout the state.
“Michigan voters have the right to vote in person on Election Day free from threat and intimidation,” Nessel said.” An armed presence at the polls is inconsistent with our notion of a free democracy.”
“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,” said Gasper.
The state has some 8 million registered voters, 1,600 election officials and 30,000 election inspectors.
The decision came about a week after more than a dozen men were arrested on federal and state charges in connection with an alleged foiled plot to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, before the election.
Federal investigators had utilized informants and tracked the men for months. A senior federal law enforcement official said some of the individuals were found to be tied to the anti-government “boogaloo” movement. They had also discussed kidnapping Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, also a Democrat.
Whitmer had connected the plot to President Donald Trump’s language, saying he has “refused” to condemn groups like the Michigan militia groups named in the foiled scheme, pointing to remarks he made about the “Proud Boys” group during last month’s presidential debate. The president had also tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” earlier this year when the state was under more stringent shutdown orders.
Trump and the White House have pushed back on that connection.
“I do not tolerate ANY extreme violence,” he said on Twitter. “Defending ALL Americans, even those who oppose and attack me, is what I will always do as your President! Governor Whitmer — open up your state, open up your schools, and open up your churches!”
Benson’s announcement also comes as voting rights experts are concerned about potential violence at the polls during the election. Trump urged his supporters during the first presidential debate last month to “go into the polls and watch very carefully” for potential election issues, leading some Democrats and election experts to sound the alarm against possible voter intimidation.