Polling places are no place for the police amid shooting fear

Photo: Associated Press

There’s a fascinating quote at the end of NPR reporter Pam Fessler’s piece this morning on election officials in some states preparing for the possibility of a mass shooting.

“I’ll have people ask, ‘Well are you going to have a sheriff’s deputy at every precinct?’ No. I just, you know, the sight of an individual there, standing there with a gun, to me is just something that you shouldn’t have to experience typically as a voter.”

That’s Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler, who earlier in the story told Fessler that he’s more worried about an “active shooter” (the current nice way of saying “mass murderer”) than he is about election fraud.

But not so worried that he’d subject voters to seeing a police officer, who once provided a sense of security and safety for people.

Instead, according to Fessler, election officials are training election judges on handling a potential mass killing.

“My guess is many election officials, they’ve gone back, rechecked them, made sure that their poll workers are trained on exactly how to handle any kind of escalation of conversation in the polling places,” Matt Masterson, of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, tells Fessler. “They know exactly who to call and when to call when something happens.”

And, of course, they’d call the cops.

That’s the plan. They’re worried about shooters. They’re worried about cops.

In South Carolina, like Minnesota, the Associated Press reports, it’s illegal for police to enter a polling place unless they’re called.

Given the nation’s long history of intimidating black voters, especially in the South, local officials must tread carefully in stepping up security. In South Carolina, for example, authorities said that under state law, police are not allowed to enter polling places unless they are summoned by election officials.

“If it is not done correctly, not only can it intimidate voters, it can also be against the law,” said Adam Gitlin, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program at the New York University School of Law. “Many states have laws that specifically provide that election officials are the ones who are in charge of keeping order.”

But Schedler seems worried that the image of a police officer on duty at a polling place does not make voters feel welcomed to vote, which is an immensely tragic situation for our country.

Related: Video of St. Paul cop’s arrest attempt grabbed views. Here’s what you don’t see. (Pioneer Press)