The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

July 10, 2014

Election officials weigh in on state AG opinion

Guns at polling places

— Limestone County Elections Director Bobbi Bailey has had no complaints, so far, about asking gun-carrying voters not to bring their weapons into polling places now that the state’s open-carry law changed.

“To my knowledge, we had no one complain about it saying it infringed on their right to carry a gun,” Bailey said.

Most of Limestone’s polling places are on private property, like churches, so they can legally ban guns. Four polling places are at fire departments, which are county owned, and two polling places are at schools. However, those two schools should be off the list in November, Bailey said.

Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely, who has been sheriff for 32 years, said he has never had a call about a voter with a gun at a polling place but he doesn’t know what the future holds.

“We’ve never had a problem like that, but we haven’t had that open-carry law we have now (in previous elections),” he said.

Deputies have been assigned to watch polling places in the past.

“In some of (the elections), we do staff polling places, and they call us if they have problems,” Blakely said. “We used to be required to keep someone at the armory, but that was one of their policies to use it for elections.”

Fear and voting in Alabama

Other counties have not been so lucky since the state’s open-carry law was changed last year.

Chambers County Commission recently sought to keep guns out of polling places but was told by the state’s attorney general they don't have the authority to prohibit firearms at polling places.

Chambers County commissioners sought the advice of Attorney General Luther Strange after a few people carrying exposed guns showed up at polling places in Chambers and Shelby counties during the primary election June 3.

The attorney general issued a seven-page advisory opinion Monday that says state law doesn't give the county commission the authority to ban weapons at polling places. But, it says state and federal laws that ban weapons in some public buildings, such as courthouses and schools, still apply when those venues are used as polling places. It also says churches and other private buildings used as polling places may prohibit guns, including those carried by people with permits to have concealed weapons.

With the July 15 runoff less than a week away, Bailey said she does not expect it to be a problem in Limestone. That may be because most of the polling places are private property, like churches, she said. Also, during the June 3 primary, she said signs were posted at polling places asking voters to please not bring weapons or telephones into polling places. The telephone ban is to ensure voter privacy. 

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