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Michigan Gun Rights Advocates Push For The Right To Carry Weapons At Polling Places

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Michigan now, where a legal fight over whether guns can be openly carried at polling places on Election Day is once again heating up. Michigan's secretary of state and attorney general say guns can be intimidating, especially in a contentious election. Gun rights advocates say the state cannot step on a right that is guaranteed under state law. For Michigan Public Radio, Rick Pluta reports.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: Michigan is an open-carry state, which means most people can carry a gun in open view without a license. There are exceptions. Schools and churches, for example, can forbid them. Michigan's Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says she can ban openly carried firearms at polling places.

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JOCELYN BENSON: The polling place is a sanctuary for democracy.

PLUTA: Benson says it's about guaranteeing everyone the right to vote without fear of coercion or intimidation.

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BENSON: And I, as the chief election officer, and we with law enforcement have every responsibility and obligation to ensure the calmness and the sanctity of that precinct, that polling place is protected and the voter's fundamental right to vote is unfettered.

PLUTA: But gun rights advocates say Benson is going too far, that she can't use a generalized concern about a possible threat to stop residents from exercising a right. Tom Lambert is with the group Michigan Open Carry.

TOM LAMBERT: While Ms. Benson may have some personal misgivings about firearms, superimposing those misgivings onto every person with a firearm and claiming that that person is inherently engaging in voter intimidation is asinine (laughter).

PLUTA: On Tuesday, a Michigan court of claims judge agreed, ruling that if Benson wanted to ban open carry, she should have gone through the state's formal rulemaking process instead of waiting until Election Day is around the corner. Benson says she would have acted sooner if she had been aware of growing threats at the polls. The organization MilitiaWatch identifies Michigan along with Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Oregon as states with a higher risk of armed militias attempting interference with elections.

WENDY WILLIAMS: The unexpected always happens on Election Day. And I'm sure that this is the case for this election more than any other that we've had.

PLUTA: Wendy Williams is training to be a poll worker in Flint and says she'd like to know what the rules will be, how they'll be enforced and what will be expected of people whose jobs are typically limited to checking voter IDs, not enforcing firearms bans.

WILLIAMS: It's concerning, of course. But I - you know, I kind of consider it an act of patriotism to safeguard the polls, to be there to try and make sure that this goes through in a fair way for everyone, no matter their affiliation.

PLUTA: State Attorney General Dana Nessel is appealing Tuesday's court ruling, which is on a fast track to reach the Michigan Supreme Court.

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DANA NESSEL: We will have this resolved by November 3. And we will make it clear exactly what the rules are and are not prior to people going into the polls on that particular day.

PLUTA: And the nation is watching what happens in Michigan. Most states have no laws regarding guns in polling places because, for the most part, they haven't really needed to make them. Today, 14 states and the District of Columbia filed a brief with Michigan's Court of Appeals supporting the position that bringing guns into polling places is intimidating and should not be allowed.

For NPR News, I'm Rick Pluta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.