The announcement by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson drew a quick rebuke from some Republicans and gun rights activists, including the National Rifle Association, but the Democratic official said firearms at voting sites could cause fear and disruption for election workers and Michiganders trying to cast their ballots on Nov. 3.
“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.”
Michigan leaders have been high alert for armed intimidation, in the wake of gun-carrying protesters storming the Michigan Capitol and a foiled plot by Michigan militia extremists attempting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. President Trump, who has repeatedly warned of voter fraud, urged his supporters to be vigilant and “to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that’s what has to happen.”
Grassroots efforts are underway to do so. Bridge Magazine reports that thousands of poll watchers and challengers are expected to descend on precincts throughout Michigan on Nov. 3.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined with Benson in support of the open carry ban.
“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.”
Benson’s directive said that the open carry of firearms is prohibited inside any polling place, any hallway used by voters to enter and exit or within 100 feet outside the building entrance.
But Joey Roberts, president of Michigan Open Carry, said he doesn’t believe Benson has the unilateral authority to impose such a policy and is considering a lawsuit, the Detroit News reported.
“We don’t see walking in and voting with an open carry pistol as voter intimidation,” Roberts told the paper.
The NRA also opposed the ban, with spokeswoman Amy Hunter telling the News this “ill-conceived action only eradicates the right to self-defense by law-abiding Michiganders.”
At least one county sheriff said he won’t enforce the ban.
“An order is an order and, quite frankly, is unenforceable,” said Mike Murphy, sheriff of Livingston County, which is located northwest of Detroit. “They have no authority to supersede law.”
Triston Cole, a state Republican lawmaker, blasted the directive on Facebook as “an in your face unconstitutional ban” and accused Democrats of trying to “take your guns and your Second Amendment rights away.”
Michigan is a critical swing state this election, with Democrat Joe Biden trying to win back the Midwest and Trump attempting to repeat his Great Lakes State win from four years ago.
Control of the Senate is also at stake with Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., trying to fend off a serious challenge from Republican John James. Biden campaigned in Michigan on Friday and Trump is scheduled to do so on Saturday.