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Michigan Appeals Court Rules State Cannot Ban Firearms in Polling Places

Despite the vast majority of voters in Michigan favoring bans on guns inside of polling locations, the state’s appellate court on Thursday ruled that the open carry of firearms will be permitted when voters go to cast their ballot on Election Day. A three-judge panel on the Michigan Court of Appeals denied Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s (D) request to overturn a lower court ruling that blocked her order prohibiting open carry at polling places.

The preliminary injunction against Benson’s order—handed down by Michigan Court of Claims Judge Christopher Murray—reasoned that the directive was effectively the Secretary engaging in administrative rulemaking without taking the proper implementation steps under the state’s Administrative Procedures Act.

In a brief one paragraph ruling from Presiding Judge Patrick M. Meter, the court reasoned that the state’s concern about voter intimidation was legitimate, but said the legislature had already enacted a law making the conduct illegal.

“First, while the civil rights amicus brief raises legitimate concerns about voter intimidation throughout this country’s history, the Michigan Legislature has given the Executive Branch important and necessary tools to prevent voter intimidation: Voter intimidation is – and remains – illegal under current Michigan law,” the court wrote citing to MCL 168.932(a) and 168.744(1).

The former statute prohibits any person from attempting “by means of bribery, menace, or other corrupt means or device, either directly or indirectly, to influence an elector in giving his or her vote, or to deter the elector from, or interrupt the elector in giving his or her vote at any election held in this state.” The latter states that persons within 100 feet of a polling room “shall not persuade or endeavor to persuade a person to vote for or against any particular candidate or party ticket or for or against any ballot question that is being voted on at the election.”

The court further reasoned that because brandishing a firearm in public “is—and remains—illegal” in the state of Michigan, the entirety of the conduct being banned under Benson’s order was already addressed by state laws.

“Accordingly, anyone who intimidates a voter in Michigan by brandishing a firearm (or, for that matter, by threatening with a knife, baseball bat, fist, or otherwise menacing behavior) is committing a felony under existing law, and that law is—and remains—enforceable by our Executive branch as well as local law enforcement,” the court said.

Ryan Jarvi, the spokesperson for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D), told the Detroit Free Press that the administration will appeal Thursday’s order to the Michigan Supreme Court.

“Just today, a poll released by the Detroit News and WDIV-TV indicated that 73% of Michigan voters say openly carried guns should be banned near polling places,” Jarvi said. “The merits of this issue — which impacts all Michiganders — deserves full and expedited consideration by our state’s highest court.”

[image via WDIV YT screengrab]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.