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Can people openly carry guns into polling places? You might be surprised

By Arit John, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Growing activity from armed far-right groups and President Donald Trump's calls for his supporters to watch polling places "very carefully" have raised concerns of possible disruptions or voter intimidation ahead of the Nov. 3 election. States will also have to prepare for the prospect of guns being brought into voting sites — legally.

So can voters bring guns into polling places? In most states, the answer is: It depends.

Only about a dozen states — including California, Arizona, Florida and Georgia — explicitly ban open and/or concealed carry in voting sites.

In much of the country, voters may bring firearms into polling places, as long as the buildings being used for voting don't generally ban them — as many schools, government buildings and churches do. Those rules vary at the state and local level.

The laws that govern weapons in polling places have drawn increasing scrutiny lately. Across an increasingly polarized nation, election officials have been consulting with state attorneys general and law enforcement over what counts as voter intimidation and what powers officials have to stop it.

Nowhere is the issue more relevant than in Michigan, where the state's gun laws and extremist activity came to a head this month when officials charged 13 people in a plot to kidnap Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and start a civil war. Some of the suspects took part in anti-lockdown demonstrations at the state capitol in the spring, when heavily armed protesters marched through the building, intimidating some lawmakers.

 

Every election season brings rumors that menacing people will show up at the polls, but they rarely amount to anything, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a recent interview. But Benson said she and others believe "this year is different" because the calls to observe people at polling places "have been much more specific and much more targeted than in years past."

Trump has repeatedly made such calls.

"I'm urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully," he said at a Sept. 29 debate.

And at an Oct. 17 rally in Michigan, he called the governor a "partisan" and falsely claimed she's "like a judge of the ballot stuff."

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