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New Bill Would Ban Guns From Illinois Polling Places

New Bill Would Ban Guns From Illinois Polling Places

When you vote, there are rules. Some are obvious: There’s no tampering with voting machines, stuffing ballot boxes, tearing down or defacing campaign posters or accepting money in exchange for a vote.

Other restrictions are less apparent. For example, it’s against state law to knowingly share a marked ballot, so no selfies at the voting machine.

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On the other hand, you are welcome to go armed with information, like with a cellphone or printed voter’s guide. And depending on where you vote, it is also OK to be literally armed.

Illinois law has no explicit restriction on guns in polling places.

State Rep. Bob Morgan (D-Deerfield) is working to change that with a proposal (House Bill 5178) that would forbid firearms at “any building, real property or parking area of a polling place.”

He said it’s necessary given rising security concerns surrounding elections.

“As we have seen, election locations (are) increasingly under threat of those who are trying to disrupt the process of being able to vote — people who are increasingly using violence to intimidate people and bringing guns to these polling places to scare people from executing their constitutional rights,” Morgan said. “As communities and counties and townships try and find different locations to safely execute these elections, we want to make sure that they’re safe from gun violence and the threats that are happening all over the country.”

Gun rights advocates said Morgan’s proposal is an answer in search of a problem.

“Show me the data that there is a problem, and if there is a problem, then great, let’s see it,” Illinois State Rifle Association lobbyist Ed Sullivan said. “I can almost guarantee you, there’s not.”

He said it’s unfair to categorize gun owners as dangerous.

“The reality is this: If somebody is going to do something bad at a polling place, they’re going to do something bad at a polling place,” Sullivan said. “What this bill does is make people less safe, because if somebody is going to do something, you think there’s going to be a cop right there? How many times have you seen in the press where someone that had a concealed carry permit stopped something from happening.”

Beyond law enforcement, only adults who’ve passed a background check and are licensed by the state to carry guns in public can legally do so.

Illinois law also limits where firearms are permitted. The concealed carry law prohibits guns at many locations that regularly serve as polling places, such as schools, libraries and government buildings. But that’s by virtue of their regular function; it has nothing to do with an election.

Morgan’s bill would explicitly ban guns at any and all polling places during early voting and on Election Day.

“This is something we saw in Wisconsin and Michigan in 2020, where polling locations were literally under threat and people were showing up with extensive amounts of firearms to intimidate and scare people,” Morgan said. “We’re not going to let that happen in Illinois. We’re going to make sure that polling locations are a safe place to go.”

Morgan pointed out some election authorities say security concerns have made it more difficult to recruit election workers and judges. 

His measure hasn’t advanced in the legislature yet, but it’s early in the legislative session.

Guns aren’t a strictly partisan issue, but gun control measures have seen success under Illinois’ Democratic control of state government.

It’s a debate taking place across the nation.

A similar plan just became law in New Mexico, and states including Michigan and Vermont are debating bans on guns in polling places, too.

But Sullivan said outside the main argument, Morgan’s proposal has substantive problems. Sullivan argued it’s silent on issues like armed security guards — he said he knows of a synagogue that serves as a polling place and is regularly protected by hired armed guards. He also said the proposal doesn’t require “no guns” signs to be posted at polling locations, which is required under the concealed carry law, in part to help licensed carriers from unwittingly breaking it.

Contact Amanda Vinicky: @AmandaVinicky | [email protected]

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