Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is introducing legislation on Wednesday that would make it illegal to possess a firearm within 100 yards of any federal election sites as instances of intimidation against voters and poll workers grow.
The proposal by Murphy, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and six other Democratic senators seeks to protect those casting and counting ballots. It levies increased penalties for those in violation of bringing a gun near those locations. Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., has a companion bill to prevent armed voter intimidation that he introduced in the House last year.
The Vote Without Fear Act comes months after Murphy’s work on bipartisan gun safety legislation that passed Congress for the first time in nearly three decades. But lawmakers have limited time left in the year to vote, and it is unclear how much support the bill would garner from Senate Republicans. If all Democrats are behind it, they would need at least 10 Republicans in support to clear a divided 50-50 Senate.
“Free and fair elections cannot happen … in the face of armed intimidation at the polls, but that’s become a disturbing reality for some Americans, as extremists driven by conspiracy theories about voter fraud are increasingly showing up to polling places with guns,” Murphy said. “This legislation will ensure voters and election workers continue to feel safe participating in the democratic process.”
The Senate bill considers election sites to be places where voters are casting ballots or a location that is processing or counting ballots for federal office. Those who knowingly bring a gun near an election location can be fined and imprisoned for up to one year. If they possess a firearm for the use of a crime near the area, they face a fine and up to five years in prison.
But the bill makes exceptions for on-duty law enforcement officers or private security guards hired by the election sites. It also includes protections for those who lawfully have a firearm in a vehicle or on private property that is located within 100 yards from the entrance.
Six states and Washington, D.C., already have laws on the books that prevent people from bringing guns to election and polling locations.
The Vote Without Fear Act has secured endorsement from local and national gun safety groups including Newtown Action Alliance, which was founded after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting when a gunman killed 20 children and six teachers.
Members of the Junior Newtown Action Alliance who are also former Sandy Hook students who survived the shooting recently rallied in Washington to call for further action on guns, urging the Senate to restore a federal assault weapons ban.
Passage of such legislation is highly unlikely, but groups like Newtown Action Alliance have been supportive of more incremental efforts to curb gun violence, like the recent bipartisan law that among other things strengthens background checks for those buying firearms under age 21.
“Armed intimidation at election sites disenfranchises voters and suppresses votes,” chairwoman Po Murray said. “Newtown Action Alliance is proud to support legislation that will promote safe and free elections for all American voters.”
The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.