Michigan has no law against guns at polls, but Dana Nessel may clarify rules

Michigan law is silent on whether people can carry guns at polling places. Attorney General Dana Nessel says her office will soon release guidance on what is and isn’t allowed. (Shutterstock)

President Donald Trump is calling upon his supporters to show up to the polls to watch for fraud, prompting fears of voter intimidation and violence on Election Day. 

In Michigan, that’s made more pressing by the president’s debate urging for the far-right Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” and by recent charges against militia members for an alleged plot to kidnap the governor. 

Eleven states ban firearms at polling places, but Michigan is not one of them, according to the National Association of State Legislatures. 

So does that mean it’s OK to carry guns at polls? It’s complicated, and depends whether guns are concealed and the location of polling places:

  • Openly carrying guns within 100 feet of polling places isn’t allowed, said Bob Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. 
  • Concealed guns are allowed at polls, though, except schools, churches and other “weapon-free zones” where they are explicitly prohibited.

Michigan is an open carry state, which means it’s typically legal to carry guns in plain sight. And since the state relaxed concealed weapons applications in 2001, about 6 percent of the population, more than 616,000 residents, have concealed carry permits.

Stevenson’s group is working with the attorney general’s office to clarify rules about guns on Election Day, but it’s an issue that’s caused confusion in the past.

In 2016, Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office said normal carrying rules apply at polling places, which would mean guns are barred from schools and churches unless the person has a concealed carry license. 

At the time, many local law enforcement agencies agreed. 

Marian Sheridan, an organizer with the Michigan Conservative Coalition who is recruiting and training people to be poll watchers and challengers in the November election, said she rarely gets asked by volunteers if they’re allowed to bring a gun. 

When they do, she said she tells them “this is not the place to be carrying.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, both Democrats, have said they plan to issue guidance soon for law enforcement on how to handle guns at polling places. 

The offices are reviewing the law “in order to ensure that we have guidance that balances voters rights to vote without any feeling of intimidation and also gun owners’ rights and their Second Amendment right to bear arms,” Department of State spokesperson Jake Rollow said Tuesday afternoon. 

The goal, he said, is for law enforcement to be clear on what is and isn’t illegal so they can respond appropriately on Election Day. 

“At this time I’m not aware of any specific threat” but the offices are coordinating with the Michigan State Police and federal law enforcement to keep tabs on any potential issues, Rollow said. 

Poll watchers, who don’t have to be appointed by a political party or group, must stay in the public areas of polling places and aren’t allowed to approach or talk to voters. State election law also protects against voter intimidation, though it’s unclear how that is defined.

Stevenson said “that’s going to be based on the overall circumstances of what the person is doing.” 

A large group of people carrying shotguns in the parking lot of a polling place is likely to qualify as intimidation, while one person standing quietly to the side would probably not, he said. 

John Pirich, an attorney and Michigan elections expert, said “there are strict standards about poll watchers and I assume that those standards will be enforced and you’re not going to have 30 people standing there trying to intimidate people.”

“Why anyone would want to bring a gun to a polling place is beyond me,” he said. 

Related stories:

Michigan law also prohibits people from posting “any material that directly or indirectly makes reference to an election, a candidate, or a ballot question” or approaching voters to encourage them to vote for or against a candidate within 100 feet of the entrance to a building where there’s a polling place. 

Nessel said last week that the president’s comments at the presidential debate late last month were “dangerous and reckless” and she’s worried they’ll spur on voter intimidation. 

She said Michigan has “pretty liberal open carry laws” but that her office is working to “first and foremost” protect the right to vote without harassment. 

“It is a legal right to be a poll watcher, but you cannot use those positions to try and interfere with a person’s right to vote,” she said. “We have to draw the line between what a person can do operating as a legal observer versus what is being done to harass people.”

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Comments

Anonymous
Tue, 10/13/2020 - 6:38pm

Were you trolling us with the last post?

<<<Michigan is an open carry state, which means it’s typically legal to carry guns in plain sight with a license. >>>

What kind of license? You don't need a CPL to carry an AR-15 or a shot gun. And I am pretty sure neither of those weapons need to licensed or registered.

<<<A large group of people carrying shotguns in the parking lot of a polling place is likely to qualify as intimidation, while one person standing quietly to the side would probably not, he said. >>>

What about a couple here, and couple of people there, and few others over there? Not in a group...........but scattered about?

The fact that we need to even discuss this, should tell everyone ALL they need to know about which party is willing to intimidate voters. This IS why that law in1982 passed. The fact that it isn't there after CONservative rule, and them DENYING President Obama HIS CONSTITUTIONALLY OBLIGATED RIGHTS TO APPOINT JUDGES, while Mitch and the rest of the Republicans said we should wait for the voters to decide........despite the judge appointments NOT on the Supreme Court?

If you can't see what is going on? COURT PACKING BY CONSERVATIVES who WOULDN'T uphold the CONSTITUTION for Obama, but Trump DESERVES to have the Constitution upheld for him?

You ARE Constitutional Constructionists. YOU are constructing the Constitution to be what YOU WANT it to be.............NOT What it IS.

Remember in November!

Bob Jenkins
Thu, 10/15/2020 - 2:13am

Much ado about nothing. This hasn't been an issue, and won't be an issue this go around. Besides, no one's going to the polls on election day anyway with all the mail in ballots and early voting. Seems like Bridge is trying to stir up controversy and scare people.

Nice segue into the "CONservatives DENYING President Obama HIS CONSTITUTIONALLY OBLIGATED RIGHTS...COURT PACKING BY CONSERVATIVES...". Mcconnell played President Obama dirty by not confirming Justice Garland, but that was his right as senate majority leader. This whole diatribe about "court packing" is tired and ridiculous. That's not what court packing means. In the Garland situation, The Senate was an R majority, while the White House was a D. Different set of circumstances when both chambers are R, or even D. They don't always play nice, but that's the beauty of the 3 branch system. Frankly, I don't understand why Mcconnell didn't just confirm Justice Garland; why wait and let Secretary Clinton appoint a judge? If Justice Ginsburg would have retired 5 or so years ago this wouldn't be an issue.

middle of the mit
Thu, 10/15/2020 - 6:51pm

Yeah Bob, I live up here in the North country. There was a small gathering in my town that I didn't even know about to show support for George Floyd. Do you know who crashed the party? A whole pile of gun toting Trump supporters. For a gathering of less than maybe 50 people. I don't know for sure. The local paper didn't chose to cover that much. Instead? 3 full pages devoted to the Trump boat parade.

Either way, it is something that is going to happen.

Now to your idea of what the constitution says.

<<< Mcconnell played President Obama dirty by not confirming Justice Garland, but that was his right as senate majority leader.

In the Garland situation, The Senate was an R majority, while the White House was a D. Different set of circumstances when both chambers are R, or even D. They don't always play nice, but that's the beauty of the 3 branch system.>>>

Bob, the constitution doesn't mention political parties. Did you know that? See, what the constitution says is that the Senate has a DUTY to advise and consent. Now, had Mitch used this argument when he denied Obama his constitutional obligations, I might think your argument had some merit. But you used the "Mitch rule". That Mitch dubbed "The Biden rule", yet Biden never got to use it..........Mitch did. IN doing so......YOUR side set a precedent, are on record saying they will allow themselves to held to the very same standard........yet..........

And if your argument had any any merit at all.....and it doesn't, it would have worked out like this:

Mitch McConnell and the Publicans hold the constitutionally obligated consent and advise hearings. Hold a vote. And then if the vote goes down? That is how YOUR scenario in a constitutional Republic should have worked out.

Yet........it didn't. Why?

<<<Frankly, I don't understand why Mcconnell didn't just confirm Justice Garland; why wait and let Secretary Clinton appoint a judge? >>

First, McConnell only believes in power for publicans. Second....Secretaries don't make appointments. Third? You just gave away the store! He packed the courts. That is why he denied Obama sooooo many of his constitutional duties.

Facts are not opinions.

<<<<If Justice Ginsburg would have retired 5 or so years ago this wouldn't be an issue.>>>

Same could have been said about Justice Scalia. But we had to wait for an election for the constitution to matter.....according to publicans.

addendum
Thu, 10/15/2020 - 11:26pm

Said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: “The rule of ‘because we can,’ which is the rule that is being applied today, is one that leads away from a lot of the traditions and commitments and values that the Senate has long embodied.”

He added: “Don’t think that when you have established the rule of ‘because we can’ that should the shoe be on the other foot that you will have any credibility to come to us and say, yeah, I know you can do that but you shouldn’t because of X, Y, Z. Your credibility to make that argument in the future will die in this room and on that Senate floor if you continue to proceed in this way.”
______________________________________________

And now we have only ones word to believe what their worth is.

Are you worthy?

John Chastain
Wed, 10/14/2020 - 9:52am

"John Pirich, an attorney and Michigan elections expert, said “there are strict standards about poll watchers and I assume that those standards will be enforced and you’re not going to have 30 people standing there trying to intimidate people.” “Why anyone would want to bring a gun to a polling place is beyond me,” he said." This is the type of willful ignorance that I find so appalling in the professional class, Mr. Pirich is an attorney and election "expert" yet assumes that standards will be "enforced", by whom? Overwhelmed volunteer poll workers and civil servants trying to manage an election during a pandemic while being harassed by Marian Sheridan's poll watchers and challengers. Then there's the bit about not understanding why anyone will carry a gun to a polling place, perhaps to intimidate and create a climate of fear. Mr. Pirich seems a bit naive about the climate of aggression and intimidation that Trumps GOP has created in this state, if he represents the lawyers and experts overseeing the upcoming election I fear for the results.

Geoffrey Owen
Thu, 10/15/2020 - 3:34pm

If I see a gun being carried at the polls I would feel that as the ultimate intimidation.