Michigan bans open carrying of guns at polling sites on Election Day

Michigan bans open carrying of guns at polling sites on Election Day. By Annie Grayer, CNN

(CNN) -- Michigan will not allow the open carrying of guns at polling places, clerk's offices and other locations where absentee ballots are counted, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced Friday.

Benson's directive prohibits Michigan residents from open-carrying firearms "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."

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"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," Benson said in a press release.

Benson continued, "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 announcement comes amid nationwide concerns about security at polling locations, especially in Michigan, where 13 people were charged earlier this month in a domestic terror plot to kidnap the state's Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump and his allies have encouraged supporters to join an "army" of poll watchers, stirring fears of voter intimidation.

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Friday's guidance only applies to Election Day itself, when long lines and large crowds are expected across the state. Early voting in Michigan is limited to people dropping off or filling out absentee ballots at election offices, and Benson's guidance on firearms does not apply to these situations. Michigan State Police is expected to issue accompanying guidance to law enforcement.

Steve Dulan, the legal counsel for the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners, said he was "certain" there would be litigation over the directive.

"There's no case law that I'm aware of that defines the mere presence of a visible firearm as intimidation. In fact, we've got a law that goes the opposite way in Michigan, that the mere presence of a firearm is not disturbing the peace" Dulan said.

Asked why it is important for individuals to be able to bring firearms to polling places to vote on Election Day, Dulan said "a significant portion of the population has decided that it's important to their safety to be armed. And this is an infringement on that."

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, however, supported the new guidance, according to the press release, saying the directive was necessary to clarify state laws already on the books.

A spokeswoman for Whitmer also commended the directive.

"The Whitmer administration supports efforts to keep our election safe and secure," Tiffany Brown told CNN. "All voters have the right to vote safely without fear of intimidation or violence."

Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope said the new guidelines will help streamline the process of voting on Election Day.

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"I think it's good to have one standard statewide for all different polling places. We use schools, churches, and government offices, and trying to figure out what regulations apply to what location is very confusing for us who are not law enforcement specialists" Swope told CNN. "I really appreciate having an answer that we can give to our voters and to our election workers."

Voter intimidation is "a question that has been coming up among both voters and election workers," Swope added.

Asked if she thinks this directive will help curtail voter intimidation on Election Day, Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey said, "We hope so."

This story has been updated with additional reaction.

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