Polling places prepare as ban on open carry on Election Day brings mixed reactions

Posted at 4:40 AM, Oct 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-21 05:54:38-04

(WXYZ) — While hundreds of thousands of Michigan voters have already cast their ballots by mail, preparations are underway now at physical polling places.

And this general election, there are some concerns over voter intimidation.

Michigan’s secretary of state recently announced a ban on open carrying firearms at polling places on Election Day, which has had mixed reactions.

The guidance announced last week really isn’t new, according to a veteran election law attorney. It states you can’t open carry a gun within 100 feet of a polling place. And in previous elections, this has never been an issue for police.

But this cycle tensions are high, sparking concern over whether or not people will follow the rules.

“Many of the polling places you know are gun free zones anyway. They’re in churches, they’re in schools," said John Pirich, an election law attorney.

But many polling places are also in city halls or government buildings.

“Clearly as we’ve seen at the Capitol, you can open carry on governmental property," said Bob Stevenson, Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. "So now you have a clash between the secretary of state’s order and what traditionally open carry people have been able to do.”

Last week, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson issued guidance that the open carrying of firearms is prohibited at polling places, in hallways used by voters to exit or enter a polling place, or within 100 feet of the building.

“Inside the 100 foot, it’s for all activity," said Pirich. "So all political activity, and I think this fits within the ambit of that prohibition, which has been longstanding in Michigan jurisprudence.”

Poll watching is legal, but some are worried that on Election Day, watching could become something more.

Dr. James Perkins is the pastor at Greater Christ Baptist Church, it’s been a polling place for years, and will be again in just two weeks.

“Has voter intimidation been an area of concern for you in the past?” asked reporter Jenn Schanz.

“It came to our awareness in 2016. But the atmosphere was not as intense as it is now," said Rev. Dr. Perkins.

Perkins, along with dozens of other Detroit faith leaders are working with the national group Lawyers and Collars to make sure voters going in-person to the polls on Nov. 3 feel safe.

“Hopefully the collar will make a difference to people who may have other motives and intents," said Rev. Dr. Perkins.

He says armed protests this summer, and the recent threats made against the governor have added to his concern.

Meanwhile, law enforcement officials are still seeking some clarification on the open carry guidance with just two weeks until Election Day.

“We’re hearing from police chiefs around the state now that they’re getting calls from local open carry advocates asking them are they going to abide by that," said Stevenson.

Michigan State Police have been called to carry out Secretary Benson’s guidance.

Dr. Perkin’s main focus now leading up to election day — is getting people registered to vote.

On Saturday, Oct. 24 at Greater Christ Baptist Church, there will be a “Get Out The Vote” event in the church parking lot starting at 1 p.m.