Opinion | To preserve democracy Michigan must ban guns where people vote
Voting is a fundamental right, and protecting safe access to the ballot is critically important. Our organizations — Promote the Vote Michigan and ADL (Anti-Defamation League) — have worked together in strong support of voting rights and to safeguard democracy.
We firmly believe that we need a voting system that puts voters first. Central to this effort is ensuring that voters are safe and feel safe. No one should be fearful for their safety or the safety of those around them when voting or waiting to vote. This should be true at polling places, early voting sites, clerks’ offices and ballot drop boxes. But recognizing this basic principle is very different from ensuring it is a reality for voters.
There are rules that prohibit electioneering within a certain distance of polling places to ensure that voters can make decisions and cast their ballots in a “neutral zone.” We have accepted these time, place and manner restrictions on First Amendment rights to protect the sanctity of the ballot box.
In many states, however, Michigan included, lawmakers have not similarly physically safeguarded the right to vote because they have not restricted the carrying of firearms in or near places where voting occurs. This problem must be rectified if we intend to protect the right to vote and put voters first.
Last year, during the midterm elections, we witnessed armed individuals “monitoring” drop boxes in Arizona. The presumed intent and certain impact of that monitoring was to intimidate voters. Deterring voters through intimidation is disenfranchisement, plain and simple, and it must be prevented. A federal court recognized this and required “monitors'' to stay beyond a certain perimeter.
For much of our country’s history, there were government-imposed and government-sanctioned efforts to deter individuals from exercising their right to vote. We cannot return to such a time. Early voting sites and drop boxes are intended to make voting safer, more accessible and more convenient. We must protect voters using these options and ensure not only that they are physically safe while casting their ballots but that they feel safe and free from the threat of physical harm when doing so.
As political divisions intensify, we must guarantee that our polling places — and all places where ballots are cast — are safe. Polling places have long been recognized as “sensitive” places where the carrying of guns may be regulated. It is time to protect the free exercise of the right to vote by prohibiting guns at or near places where votes are cast.
We know that these concerns are not theoretical. A July 2022 public opinion poll in Michigan found that a 65 percent majority supports banning guns from polling and vote count locations.
In 2020 and 2022, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson issued advisories outlining the current state of Michigan law regarding open carry and concealed carry in places that might be used as polling places and highlighted the prohibitions against intimidation of voters. It is time to formally codify in Michigan law that carrying firearms at or near polling places, early voting sites, clerk’s offices, and ballot drop boxes is prohibited. HB 4127 would accomplish this.
Safeguarding the right to vote is an ongoing obligation of those who want to protect democracy. As we learned long ago, it is not enough to legally grant the right to vote; we must also ensure that the right can be freely and safely exercised. Ensuring our physical security in the places we come to cast ballots is an essential part of this work.
This is what it means to put voters first.
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