In August, Donald Trump implied that guns might be the answer to stopping Hillary Clinton from appointing Supreme Court nominees since she has promised to, in his words, “essentially abolish the Second Amendment” (fact check: she has not).
The imminent concern is that Trump’s comment be taken to heart by those voters he refers to as his “Second Amendment people.” That and subsequent comments about a “rigged” election from the Trump camp have created a cloud of fear over the 2016 presidential election. And so election officials across the nation are now having to prepare polling places and workers for threats of intimidation and violence.
Setting the stage
Donald Trump has repeatedly told his followers that fraud is the only thing that could cause him to lose this election. He has consistently expressed a distrust of the system, working hard to convince his followers they may be cheated out of a win:
“Of course there is large-scale voter fraud happening on and before Election Day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naïve!” he tweeted on Oct. 17.
“The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary – but also at many polling places – SAD,” was Donald’s Twitter comment one day prior.
Finally, during the third presidential debate, Trump stunned the political establishment by refusing to say that he will accept the outcome of the election.
So what legal safeguards are in place to assure people who may, in light of those comments, feel anxious about exercising their right to vote?
Polling place laws
Michael Montgomery is a political scientist who has written on voting systems and worked in election administration. “Specific rules vary by state,” he explains, “but the following things will generally prevail.”
- Prior to Election Day, poll watchers must be registered with the city or county clerk’s office that is conducting the election.
- Poll watchers (and challengers in some states) may not interfere with voters. Any concerns the watcher might have are to be expressed to the election staff.
- Electioneering can never come into polling places—some states even require voters to remove campaign buttons. It is not unusual for electioneering to be banned within 100 feet of the door to the polling place, and some jurisdictions mark this boundary with signs and lines painted on the ground.
Armed voters are welcome?
In most states, there are no laws that address guns in voting areas—mainly because, until Trump’s recent inflammatory comments, the need to establish such legislation didn’t exist. Whether or not a voter is permitted to carry a gun to the polling place is determined by a variety of factors, including laws about concealed weapons and open carry and whether or not the facility is on public or private property.
In Pennsylvania, for example, a voter may cast a vote while toting a rifle or wearing a handgun. Yet Pennsylvania’s law enforcement is not permitted within 100 feet of the polling booth.
According to Sheriff David Grice of North Carolina’s Davidson County, such things are not paradoxical. Grice denied requests to station deputies at polling places, explaining his reasons for doing so in a statement. The sheriff advised that posting officers at polling places is not appropriate because it can give the impression that law enforcement is present to discourage people from voting. Security at polling places currently lies with the local boards of elections.
Is the danger real?
The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence tracks state gun laws and reports that only six states—Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas—prohibit bringing guns into their polling places. In light of Trump’s call to arms, more states may join their ranks.
In states with a history of gun violence—Alabama, Montana, New Mexico to name a few—the concern is significant. But there are worries even in states that don’t make the top-ten list for gun violence. In Virginia’s Prince William County, for example, the electoral board is considering seeking an Election Day ban on weapons at polling places on private property. And in Colorado, Denver poll workers are actually being trained on how to respond to a mass shooting.
Voter intimidation is illegal, but it can be difficult to define. Voters might be better-served by being mindful not of Trump’s invented threats of fraud but rather the sadly real threat of violence that looms over the 2016 election.
Image courtesy of diversityinc