Are you ready for the November 3, 2020, election? Do you know where you’ll cast your vote? Do you even know if you’ll be going to a polling station?
As the mainstream media debates the issue of mail-in voting on a daily basis, it can be difficult to cut through the partisanship and know with any certainty what to expect with COVID-19 restrictions. With mail-in voting becoming as big an issue as our democracy itself for many citizens, Americans are charged with a massive decision at the ballot box. As the 2020 election season approaches, some gun owning voters have questions about their rights if they encounter protests at or near polling places and if they’re legally allowed to carry while they cast their vote.
Here’s what you need to know when it comes to the law in Texas on mail-in ballots, carrying at polling places, and what you legally can or should do if you encounter protests at or near the polling place.
Leading Up to November 3rd
Texas offers the option to vote by mail under certain conditions. Although it is likely to change because of the COVID-19 pandemic, to be eligible to vote by mail in Texas, a person must be:
- 65 years or older;
- Out of the country on election day and during the period for early voting by personal appearance; or
- Confined in jail, but otherwise eligible.
Even if you meet one of these requirements, you must still submit an Application for Ballot by Mail (“ABBM”). If you would like to know more about the ABBM process or request an ABBM, please visit www.votetexas.gov, which also has important dates for upcoming elections in Texas.
Can You Carry a Handgun Under the Authority of Your LTC on Election Day or Early Voting in a Polling Place?
The short answer is no. The possession of both handguns and long guns, as well as other weapons, is prohibited at any place where polling for an election is taking place, including places where early voting is in progress. Tex. Penal Code § 46.03(a)(2).
This prohibition also extends to location-restricted knives and clubs. If you have a location-restricted knife (any knife with a blade longer than five and one-half inches), do not bring it onto the premises of a polling place while voting is in progress. Leave these prohibited items concealed in your locked vehicle or at home.
One key exception to this rule applies to election judges. Under Texas law, every polling place is required to have an “election judge” or clerk who is responsible for administering oaths and is generally in charge of the polling place. Although these election judges are not actual judges, they do have the authority to enforce election laws and settle disputes at polling places. Election judges with an active LTC are allowed to possess firearms on the premises of a polling place under the “active judicial officers” exception.
What Happens if There is a Polling Place in an Area Where I am Normally Allowed to Carry?
Many polling locations are often at places where firearms are not ordinarily prohibited, such as churches, grocery stores, governmental buildings, and libraries. However, during early voting and on election day, those locations become off-limits for firearms and other weapons.
If you notice that an establishment you frequent is being used as a polling place, treat it as any other prohibited place and do not enter with your firearm, location-restricted knife, or club.
What Happens if You Encounter a Large Demonstration?
If you encounter a large demonstration on your way to a polling place, try to avoid confrontation, de-escalate, and remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible. This shouldn’t be an issue at the polling place, as it is illegal to electioneer or loiter within 100 feet of an entrance to a polling place. If there are signs or people are electioneering in the polling place or within 100 feet of an entrance, tell the election judge on site.
If a group is preventing you from entering a polling site or is intimidating voters, contact local law enforcement.
While we encourage you to do your civic duty and vote, as a responsible gun owner, you must make sure to follow the law and leave your firearm at home or in your vehicle when voting. If you have any questions about polling places or prohibited places to carry your firearm, call Texas LawShield and ask to speak with your Independent Program Attorney.
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