Open Carry Restrictions in Place for Election Day

Three Rivers Police Chief Details Plan for Three Rivers

In a statement Friday, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said the open carry of firearms at polling places on Election Day is prohibited around the state. The restriction also extends to clerk’s offices and absentee voter counting boards. Benson said she is coordinating with Attorney General Dana Nessel as well as law enforcement agencies and officials around the state to ensure that uniform enforcement of the requirements takes place.

In an email responding to a citizen concern, Three Rivers Police Chief Tom Bringman said, “the City of Three Rivers is fortunate to have one voting location where all our citizens vote.” In keeping with “See Something, Say Something” protocol, Bringman said the department would ask for citizens to call the Central Dispatch non-emergency number, 269-467-4195, to report “anything suspicious taking place,” except for an emergency, in which case they should call 911.

“Central will document the information while providing the information to law enforcement who will immediately check out the suspicious situation,” Bringman said. “Between now and Election Day we will be kept up to date with information coming into law enforcement resources monitoring conditions around the State. If citizens hear of something developing, they should provide that information to Central Dispatch or to a law enforcement officer they feel comfortable talking to. We will also be setting it up to have a couple auxiliary police officers at our voting location throughout the entire Election Day.”

The Secretary of State’s Office is also providing “additional guidance to election workers if they encounter individuals with firearms at or near polling places, and to secure the full and free exercise of the right to vote.” Benson said “election inspectors should contact law enforcement immediately if these prohibitions are violated. The prohibition on open carry does not apply to law enforcement officers acting in the course of their duties.”

Clerks are being encouraged to contact local law enforcement officials, including police and sheriff’s departments, prior to election day in order to establish points of contact regarding enforcement of the Secretary of State’s rules. Election inspectors will be required to post signage providing notice of Benson’s regulations inside rooms containing polling places, as well as at building entrances. At the discretion of local clerks, additional notice may also be placed at the 100-foot perimeter.

Benson’s statement and the citizen inquiry to Bringman comes in response to reports around the state and country that some groups are planning to serve as undesignated, armed, “poll watchers” at voting locations on November 3, which is General Election day. Widespread allegations of possible voter fraud have circulated in the 2020 election season. Some are substantiated, but many are not. Many voting rights advocates and some public officials say the presence of firearms within sight of polls can be construed as a form of voter intimidation, which can also be an illegal means of influencing the outcomes of elections.

Benson’s order seeks to clarify any doubt about whether the practice will be permitted in Michigan. “The presence of firearms at the polling place, clerk’s office(s), or absent voter counting board may cause disruption, fear, or intimidation for voters, election workers, and others present,” Benson said. “Absent clear standards, there is potential for confusion and uneven application of legal requirements for Michigan’s 1,600 election officials, 30,000 election inspectors, 8 million registered voters, and thousands of challengers and poll watchers on Election Day.”

Although Michigan permits open carry and licensed concealed carry of firearms under certain conditions, Benson said, “an individual’s ability to carry a firearm depends on several factors, such as whether he or she is licensed to carry a concealed weapon or is exempt from licensure; the location; whether the weapon is concealed or openly carried; and other circumstances.”

The language of Benson’s requirements states that “The open carry of a firearm is prohibited in a polling place, in any hallway used by voters to enter or exit, or within 100 feet of any entrance to a building in which a polling place is located. A person may leave a firearm inside a vehicle parked within 100 feet of the building when visiting these locations if otherwise permitted by law to possess the firearm within the vehicle.” Concealed carry is also prohibited in any building in which the practice is already prohibited, unless building officials specifically authorize it.

Benson’s statement also said that election inspectors should contact law enforcement immediately if they encounter “any person acting in a way that would tend to intimidate, hinder, or impede voters on the way to the polls,” even if that person is more than 100 feet from a polling place.

Dave Vago is a writer and columnist for Watershed Voice. A Philadelphia native with roots in Three Rivers, Vago is a planning consultant to history and community development organizations and is the former Executive Director of the Three Rivers DDA/Main Street program.