AG Racine Co-Leads 15-State Coalition Defending Michigan’s Ban on Open Carry of Firearms at Polling Locations

Attorneys General Argue That States Have a Right to Protect Voters From Intimidation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced today they are co-leading a coalition of 15 states in urging the Michigan Court of Appeals to uphold the Michigan Secretary of State’s authority to ban the open carry of guns at polling places on Election Day. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in Lambert v. Benson and Davis v. Benson, consolidated cases in the Michigan Court of Appeals, the multistate coalition argues that states have broad authority to regulate conduct at polling places and protect the right of all eligible citizens to vote safely, securely, and free from intimidation. The brief points out that from 1776 through the present, states have regularly banned guns at the polls. The District of Columbia has been active in protecting voting access nationwide, having recently led multistate coalitions in election cases involving AlabamaFloridaMinnesotaMississippi, North Carolina (twice) , South Carolina, and  Texas (twice), and protecting states’ authority to promulgate and enforce common-sense gun regulations.

“Michigan’s ban on the open carry of firearms at polling places seeks to ensure that elections are peaceful and orderly and that voters can cast their ballots without fear of intimidation or violence,” said AG Racine. “State attorneys general are standing up against illegal voter intimidation and will continue to fight to ensure that every voter is heard and every vote is counted.”

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and an extremely contentious presidential election marred by multiple instances of extremist violence, states across the country have modified their election procedures to protect the health and safety of voters and election workers. Acting within her authority to regulate polling places and prevent voter intimidation, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson issued a directive prohibiting the open carry of firearms within 100 feet of polling places on Election Day. Several pro-gun groups and individuals filed lawsuits challenging this directive, and on October 27, 2020, the Michigan Court of Claims struck it down.

In an amicus brief, the multistate coalition urges the Michigan Court of Appeals to reverse the lower court’s ruling and reinstate Michigan’s prohibition on open carriage of firearms at polling places because:

  • States and localities have a responsibility to protect voter participation and safety: The Supreme Court has recognized that states have the power to regulate elections and must do so in ways that preserve the right to vote. States can and do take proactive measures to prevent election interference, including voter intimidation. The states argue that the open carriage of firearms at polling places has the potential to intimidate voters and discourage them from going to polling places to cast their ballots, and that Michigan’s prohibition on open carriage at polling places is a “sensible means of avoiding a potential source of voter intimidation.”
     
  • States have banned guns at the polls throughout American history: States have long restricted guns at polling places to ensure peaceful and orderly elections. As early as 1776, Delaware’s state Constitution provided that, “[t]o prevent any violence or force being used at the said elections, no person shall come armed to any of them.” Throughout the 19th century, states including Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Louisiana passed laws banning guns at polling places. Many states—including Texas, Florida, and Mississippi—currently maintain election-specific firearms prohibitions, as does the District. Numerous states and the District also have broad bans or restrictions on the open carriage of firearms that may prohibit open carry at or near polling places. Additionally, the District specifically bans handguns at polling places, even if an individual has a license to carry.  

A copy of the brief is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-10/MI-Firearms-Polling-Locations.pdf

Today’s brief was co-led by AG Racine and AG Healey, and joined by the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Virginia.

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