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Armed vigilantes stalked Arizona ballot drop boxes during the 2022 election in a transparent bid to intimidate. It was a chilling reminder of the role that guns have historically played in terrorizing American voters. On Friday, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill that completely ignores history — guns and voting do not mix.
The bill would permit election judges, early voting clerks, and deputy early voting clerks to carry handguns at polling places. The legislator responsible for the bill said it would ensure “law-abiding citizens who are election judges who want to carry to protect themselves” can do so “without fear of prosecution.
He got one thing right: election officials around the country are afraid. But they’re not afraid of weapons charges — they’re afraid of armed conspiracy theorists and the risk of gun violence at polling locations. According to a Brennan Center poll, nearly one in three officials has been harassed, abused, or threatened. One in five is worried about being physically assaulted on the job. And 45 percent are concerned for the safety of other election officials and workers.
Arming election officials is not the solution. The presence of guns risks escalating the increasingly fraught and hyperpartisan political climate of the modern era into potentially deadly conditions
Weapons also scare voters away from the polls, particularly racial minorities who have been the historical targets of voter intimidation and violence. Armed nativists from the Know Nothing party chased immigrants and others from polling places in the mid-19th century. Guns were used to terrorize Black Americans who attempted to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote following the Civil War. It is a long and disgraceful history, and you can draw a straight line from those eras to the vigilantes who used guns to menace would-be voters last year
The rational response to these incidents is to keep guns away from polls. Last year, Congress considered but failed to pass legislation banning firearms near federal election sites. Because of that failure, gun advocates are reviving the old argument that more guns make us safer. More guns do not make schools safer, and history shows that guns do not make polling places more secure
This fact has been recognized since the earliest days of the republic. Delaware’s 1776 constitution plainly stated, “To prevent any violence or force being used at the said elections, no person shall come armed to any of them.” I couldn’t put it any better
There’s a better way to protect election officials than to hand them a weapon and wish them luck. An armed election official is not a trained security officer. Texas could, instead, increase funding for true election security and prohibit the intimidation of election officials. The federal government can help, providing expertise and its own funding to prevent attacks on election officials. (If Texas needs guidance in protecting the people who administer its elections, the Brennan Center’s April report, Securing the 2024 Election, is a great place to start.)
Politicians can also stop lying about election fraud. In a letter cosigned by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the Brennan Center told Texas legislators that “false allegations of election fraud by politicians and others have dramatically raised tensions at the polls.” Drop the Big Lie, and many of these threats will go away without a shot being fired.