Judge stops Election Day gun ban near Michigan polling sites

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A judge’s gavel is shown in a file photo. (Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

DETROIT (AP) — A judge on Tuesday blocked a ban on the open display of guns near Michigan polling places on Election Day, agreeing with critics who said a Democratic secretary of state failed to follow state law with her sudden order.

Gun-rights groups accused Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson of exceeding her authority in banning people from openly carrying guns within 100 feet (30.48 meters) of voting sites. She acted after authorities recently busted up an alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

But Benson failed to go through a formal rule-making process required under state law, Judge Christopher Murray said.

Compliance “is no mere procedural nicety,” Murray said. “Instead, our appellate courts have repeatedly emphasized the importance of the democratic principles embodied in the (law), which requires notice and an opportunity to be heard on the subject under consideration.”

Earlier in the day, Assistant Attorney General Heather Meingast said lawmakers have given secretaries of state discretion to set certain election rules, including safety. Separately, armed critics upset with the governor’s orders about controlling the coronavirus have rallied at the Capitol.

“There are dozens — we’ve had numerous complaints,” Meingast told the judge. “There are voters who are afraid. There are election workers who are afraid to go to work on Election Day.”

Murray said voter intimidation already is illegal.

Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, pledged to appeal Murray’s decision with just days left until the election.

Benson’s policy caused blowback from some county sheriffs who had said they wouldn’t enforce it. The Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police also had panned it.

“To be clear: This case is not about the fragile state of mind of 21 voters, and what (Benson) envisions is the appropriate level of wokeness by voters,” Dean Greenblatt, attorney for the group Michigan Open Carry, told the judge. “It’s the question of raw abuse and assumption of power not authorized by law.”

Some states and groups are preparing for tension at polling places. In Ohio, the League of Women Voters has been recruiting “peacekeeper teams” of clergy and social workers to ease stress at the polls. At least 125 people have signed up.

Murray hears lawsuits against the state of Michigan as a judge on the Court of Claims. He also is chief judge on the state appeals court and is running for reelection to that court.

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