Most states have no laws regarding guns in polling places, because for the most part, they haven’t really needed to make them. The confluence of firearms and polling places isn’t something America has been concerned about on a national scale — until now. As we stumble into the home stretch of one of the most divisive presidential elections in recent history — complete with eyebrow-raising rhetoric on guns and voter fraud — many election officials across the country are, for the very first time, bracing for intimidation or even violence on Election Day. And there’s not much they can really do about it. “We’ve never seen this level of concern, this far out from Election Day — poll workers in states across the country being trained to deal with guns,” said Erika Soto Lamb, a spokeswoman with the Michael Bloomberg-aligned gun control group, Everytown for Gun Safety. But other than training for how to respond in a mass shooting or studying up on what actions define voter intimidation, state laws about guns and voter intimidation are a patchwork of wildly varying regulations. Most election officials sort through a hodgepodge of laws about concealed weapons and open carry, and take into account whether the polling place is on private or public property, to figure out whether a gun-toting voter is allowed in.
In fact, some state laws on guns could even be interpreted as counterproductive to voter safety. In Pennsylvania, for instance, voters can bring a handgun or rifle with them to vote — but law enforcement has to stay at least 100 feet from the polling booth. In South Carolina, you can’t bring an open carry handgun into the polling booth, but you can bring an open carry rifle or other long gun inside.
According to the nonprofit Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which tracks state gun laws, there are six states that generally prohibit bringing guns in polling places (Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas). Another four ban concealed carry guns in polling places (Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska and South Carolina), but it gets complicated when you drill down into their open carry laws.
The combination of gun-related Election Day rhetoric and a somewhat confusing state web of gun laws has some election officials worried — especially in swing states with open carry laws and a history of mass gun violence.