Armed protesters take part in an “American Patriot Rally,” organized on April 30, 2020, by Michigan United for Liberty on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, demanding the reopening of businesses.
Jeff Kowalsky | AFP | Getty Images
Michigan’s secretary of state on Friday banned the open carry of guns at polling places and other official voting locations on Election Day in the state, a move that comes on the heels of an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and after armed protests at the statehouse.
“Fair, free and secure elections are the foundation of our democracy,” said Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in announcing the open carry ban, which will be backed by the state attorney general and State Police.
“I am committed to ensuring all eligible Michigan citizens can freely exercise their fundamental right to vote without fear of threats, intimidation or harassment,” said Benson, who is Michigan’s top election official.
“Prohibiting the open-carry of firearms in areas where citizens cast their ballots is necessary to ensure every voter is protected.”
Benson outlined the prohibition in a guidance issued to local election clerks.
The ban on opening carrying firearms applies to polling places, clerk’s offices and absent voter counting boards on Election Day, which falls on Nov. 3, and extends out 100 feet from those locations.
That guidance said that “the presence of firearms at” those locations “may cause disruption, fear, or intimidation for voters, election workers, and others present.”
State Attorney General Dana Nessel said, “Michigan voters have the right to vote in person on Election Day free from threat and intimidation.”
“An armed presence at the polls is inconsistent with our notion of a free democracy. I stand with the Secretary in her commitment to ensure that every eligible voter who wants to vote in person can do so safely and without fear or intimidation.”
Michigan has 16 electoral votes at stake in the contest between incumbent Republican President Donald Trump and the Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Trump barely won Michigan in his 2016 contest against Hillary Clinton, edging the Democrat out by just 0.23% of the votes cast. The state was one of several in the Rust Belt which played a crucial role in giving Trump enough votes to defeat the former U.S. secretary of State in the Electoral College.
But recent polls show Biden leading Trump by an average of more than six percentage points in Michigan.
Trump has been critical of Whitmer for her response to the Covid-19 outbreak since last spring.
Earlier this month, federal authorities arrested six men in connection with allegedly plotting to kidnap Whitmer, with one of those defendants allegedly saying the group would try the governor for “treason.”
State terrorism charges have been filed against eight other men related to allegedly offering aid to that scheme and to efforts to ignite a civil war and commit violent acts against law-enforcement officials in the state. All fourteen defendants are alleged to be members or associates of militia groups, including one called the Wolverine Watchmen.
Michigan’s state house has also been the site of protests by people armed with guns, who were upset by Whitmer’s strict lockdown orders earlier this year of businesses and other entities because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer, and discussions about also kidnapping Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, another Democrat, were fueled by anger over their Covid-19 lockdown measures.
In April, after armed protests at the state capitol by members of militia groups and others, Trump tweeted “Liberate Michigan!”
Whitmer and Nessel have said Trump’s rhetoric could have played a role in sparking the alleged plot.
Whitmer has called Trump “complicit,” while Nessel has said of Trump and state Republican elected officials, “When they say these things, people not only listen, they respond. … It’s not just a dog whistle, but a rallying cry.”
However, at least one of the men charged with the kidnap plot, Brandon Caserta, has reportedly posted messages criticizing Trump, referring to the president as a “tyrant.”
“Trump is not your friend, dude. It amazes me that people actually, like, believe that when he’s shown over and over and over again that he’s a tyrant,” Caserta said on a video being circulated online, The Detroit News reported. “Every single person that works for government is your enemy, dude.”
Several of Caserta’s co-defendants reportedly posted pro-Trump messages on social media.
Trump has continued attacking Whitmer for her policies even after the alleged kidnap plot was exposed.
Trump on Thursday during a Fox Business interview blasted Whitmer, accusing her of aspiring to be a “dictator.”
“Michigan, she has to open up,” Trump said. “She wants to be a dictator in Michigan, and the people can’t stand her.”