Guns and Ballots

Posted Nov. 01, 2010, at 7:37 p.m.

The turning away of a police officer at the polls in Bangor last week has raised a question not often pondered: Should guns be allowed at the voting booth?

No state or federal law bars them and, fortunately, there have been few instances of violence at polls nationwide, despite increasingly heated political rhetoric in recent years.

The situation in Bangor should give authorities reason to review polling place procedures and ensure that those overseeing voting locales understand what is and is not allowed.

On Friday, a Bangor officer who was working near the city’s central voting venue, the Bangor Civic Center, decided to stop in and vote early. He was asked to hand over his service sidearm to another officer who was working at the civic center. He declined to do so, and the warden told him he couldn’t vote. The officer left. The warden has since been asked not to help during polling today, Election Day.

Maine’s polling places, like those in other states, are run by volunteers. They make mistakes. This situation, however, likely would have turned out differently if the warden had simply called the secretary of state’s office to ask for advice on what to do, something poll workers are encouraged to do. He would have been told that the officer should be allowed to vote.

Wardens are charged with keeping order at the polls. Simply having someone show up with a gun is not a threat to that order, says Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. Even if other voters are uncomfortable seeing another voter with a gun, there is no threat to public order, he said.

Wardens can ask voters to leave their guns in their cars, which for the general public is a better place for them than at the voting booth, but voters are not obliged to do so.

According to Mr. Dunlap, firearms are prohibited in only four venues in Maine: the State House, federal buildings, schools and places that serve alcohol. This, of course, does not apply to on-duty law enforcement officers.

It is also worth noting that while guns are allowed at polling places, using a cell phone is not. Once you’re handed a ballot and headed to a voting booth, talking on a cell phone is prohibited. So are campaign buttons larger than 3 inches.

This situation has also highlighted the fact that while 30 states require that employees give workers time off to vote, Maine isn’t among them. So workers, including police officers, are likely to show up at the polling place in uniform.

While the law allows you to bring your gun with you when you vote today, common sense says you’re better off leaving it at home.

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