Even More Sheriffs Say They Won't Enforce Michigan's Ban on Guns at the Polls

“People are going to press the issue because they know it’s an illegal order," said one sheriff.
A gun rights advocate with an "I VOTED" sticker on his holster gathers with others for an annual rally on the steps of the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Monday, May 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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Even more law enforcement officials in Michigan are refusing to enforce guidance by the state’s top election officials banning guns at the polls, which could increase voter intimidation in a key swing state.

Benzie County sheriff Ted Schendel, a Republican who previously ran for Congress, called the order issued by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson “illegal” because Benson “doesn’t have the authority,” he told the Traverse City Record-Eagle.


Schendel even claimed that Benson’s guidance to local officials, which bans open carry within 100 feet of polling locations, was creating a problem that didn’t exist before: He said one person had already called him to say that they planned to bring a gun to the polls explicitly in defiance of the order.

“I wish she would have just left it alone because now it’s going to create problems for all of us,” Schendel said. “People are going to press the issue because they know it’s an illegal order.” In 2016, however, voters in more than two dozen states reported seeing guns at the polls, according to Guns Down America.

At least three Michigan sheriffs wouldn’t commit to enforcing the order last week, including Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich, who told VICE News that “I wouldn’t say I would or would not enforce [the directive].” Borkovich’s mind has apparently changed; he told the Record-Eagle that while he doesn’t want to see people carrying weapons at the polls, “it is not illegal for them to do so.”

The state’s sheriffs’ association said in a statement that sheriffs should consult local prosecutors for guidance on whether to enforce the order, according to the Record-Eagle.

Traverse City Police Chief Jeffrey O’Brien, who is a member of the association, said the order was unconstitutional, although he wouldn’t specifically say whether he’d enforce it.

“I don’t see where [Benson] can usurp the Constitution of the United States or the Michigan Constitution to make law,” O’Brien told the Eagle-Record. “It’s an absolute right under the Second Amendment.”


Gun groups also sued to stop the order from being enforced last week, alleging Benson isn’t “empowered to issue directives regarding the time, place or manner of elections” under Michigan’s constitution. Oral arguments are scheduled for Tuesday.

“We have a fundamental right to self-protection, and we don’t feel that simply going to the polls, you should have to give up that right to exercise another right,” Joey Roberts of Open Carry Michigan, one of the groups suing Benson over order, told VICE News last week.

Aside from Michigan, nine other states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, explicitly ban guns and other weapons at the polls. Benson’s guidance, which came after the FBI arrested 14 people in connection to an alleged kidnapping plot against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, has backing from state Attorney General Dana Nessel.

"We don't want people to harass voters when they are in the process of exercising what is a fundamental right, which is their right to vote," Nessel said in an interview with Showtime earlier this month. "I feel like it's my job to do everything I can to make sure there is a safe and secure vote, and I'm very hopeful that law enforcement will agree."

President Donald Trump has encouraged supporters to engage in confrontations at voting sites, with the campaign gloating that it’s trained tens of thousands of “poll watchers” and urging during the first presidential debate to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.”

In Pinellas County, Florida, last week, two armed men dressed like security guards showed up at a polling place and said they were hired by the Trump campaign to monitor the polls. The Trump campaign denied hiring them.

“Voter intimidation, deterring voters from voting, impeding a voter’s ability to cast a ballot in this election is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in any way, shape, or form,” Pinellas County election supervisor Julie Marcus said at the time.