Banning guns in polling places would help safeguard voting rights ⋆

As leaders dedicated to promoting solidarity between Black and Jewish communities, we know our communities have a long history of working together to protect and advance core constitutional rights, particularly when it comes to voting.

That shared history includes tragedy and triumph, hard-fought victories paid for with injuries, death, and being the targets of extremist violence: the 16th Street Church bombing; the bombing of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple; and the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, known as the Freedom Summer murders, to name just a few. For many in our communities, the battles of the civil rights movement are a high watermark of our unity and collaboration. 

We also share a history of fighting hate, in particular extremist hate, that has for too long threatened and caused physical violence in our communities.  Simply invoking the names of U.S. cities underscores the point: Charleston, Pittsburgh, Poway, Buffalo. We know too well the danger, violence and death caused by extremists fueled by hate and armed with powerful weapons.

As political threats intensify, Michigan Dems look to ban guns at polling places

As the threat – and reality – of extremist and hate-motivated political violence grows, we find that we must continue to fight together to protect the right to vote. Our work must also focus directly on protecting our tools of democracy – spaces where we vote and petition our government, the officials and volunteers who power that democracy, and the people seeking to exercise their fundamental rights. 

The history and present of the fight for voting rights has turned, in part, on not just whether people technically had the legal right to vote but also whether they would be safe in exercising that right. Protecting the right to vote has always meant protecting voters. Our election workers and elected officials likewise must be able to do their critical work in safety. 

The threats and incidents that have marked recent elections across the country, including armed patrols of ballot drop boxes, and armed individuals planning to converge on ballot counting spaces, underscore the need for action. So, too, do the images of armed extremists roaming the halls of the Capitol in Lansing in April 2020.

Even in the absence of actual violence, the threats are a form of intimidation and coercion. Intimidating individuals into not exercising their rights is simply another form of depriving individuals of those rights. We want people exercising their rights to vote and/or to petition their government not only to be safe but also to feel safe.  

It is past time to take basic steps to safeguard the spaces where core constitutional rights are exercised. Prohibiting the carrying of firearms into or close to these spaces will safeguard these spaces in actuality, as well as in perception.  

Moreover, doing so will protect the elected and unelected workers and volunteers who work at these sites and make it possible for the rest of us to exercise our fundamental rights. In recent years, threats against local elected officials have significantly increased.

A recent study by the Anti-Defamation League and Bridging Divides Institute found that threats or harassment of election officials or poll workers span 21 states and make up about 34% of all incidents tracked. Michigan was one of the states with the highest incidents of threats and harassment to poll workers. An astonishing 13% of all threats to election officials or poll workers across the U.S. came from the state of Michigan.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson each have prioritized protecting our Capitol and our polling places, voter counting centers and ballot drop boxes. The Legislature is taking up bills to prohibit firearms to be carried in or within 100 feet of those spaces. The Capitol Commission is considering a proposal to bar the carrying of firearms in the state Capitol. 

We appreciate this commitment to safeguarding the spaces where we exercise these core constitutional rights, and we are not alone. A July 2022 public opinion poll found that a 65% majority supports banning guns from polling and vote count locations. The same study found strong support for efforts to reduce firearms in the state Capitol. 

It is time for action. We come together today to urge all who care about the right to vote and the right to petition our government to join us in safeguarding the exercise of those rights.

authored by Carolyn Normandin
First published at

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