Banning Firearms from Polling Places
Michigan law bans the possession of concealed firearms in certain public places, but the law generally allows open carry in polling places, clerk’s offices, and absent voter counting boards (AVCBs). Some view the presence of weapons in locations that serve as polling places as a form of voter or poll worker intimidation that is uniquely hazardous in today’s charged political climate. But proponents of open carry laws argue that mere possession of a firearm is not inherently intimidating or coercive, and voters should not be forced to choose between exercising one fundamental right over another.
In 2020, the Secretary of State exercised her “supervisory control” powers over elections and issued a directive banning individuals from openly carrying guns in places where voting or absent voter ballot counting occurred on Election Day. The ban would have applied to polling places and AVCBs, any interior spaces such as hallways used by voters to enter or exit a polling room, and outdoor areas within 100 feet of the entrance to any building used as a polling place. Days before the November 3, 2020 election, the Court of Claims enjoined enforcement of the directive because it was not promulgated in accordance with the Michigan Administrative Procedures Act and the Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed, noting that state law already prohibits voter intimidation and brandishing firearms regardless of the Secretary’s directive. The Michigan Supreme Court declined to hear the case before Election Day.
Only 12 states have enacted laws prohibiting concealed carry, open carry, or both at the polls. In 2022, Democratic members of the Michigan House of Representatives introduced legislation that would have prohibited individuals from openly carrying firearms in polling places, clerk’s offices, and AVCBs, but it was not considered by the full chamber.
With partisan control of the State House and Senate shifting to Democrats in 2023, efforts to amend state law consistent with the 2020 directive could gain momentum and if enacted, litigation will likely follow.