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SPOTLIGHT
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Armed voters

Published on -11/5/2013, 10:02 AM

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While opinions issued from the Kansas Attorney General's office do not carry the same weight as law, they suffice for guidance until legal precedent is established.

With that in mind, it will be interested to see how Attorney General Derek Schmidt rules regarding the issue of guns on Election Day. He has been asked whether voting Kansans are allowed to enter polling places with their properly permitted concealed-carry weapon.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach requested the opinion, citing "some ambiguity in the law" concerning the temporary polling places that get set up. Concealed carry now is allowed in most government-owned buildings unless elaborate security systems are put in place that would prevent all weapons from getting inside. That law doesn't have an exception for election days.

But for most elections, additional facilities temporarily are utilized both to expedite the process and increase convenience for voters. Churches, libraries, universities and charity organizations come to mind -- sites where concealed weapons usually aren't allowed.

"We've invited the attorney general to weigh in before we issue any guidance to the counties," Kobach said.

It is not difficult to predict how the attorney general will rule. State laws governing the conduct of elections already apply to every polling place the county election officer designates. Examples abound.

For instance, solicitation of contributions within 250 from the entrance of a polling place while the polls are open is considered disorderly election conduct -- a class B misdemeanor -- no matter where that polling place is located. Intimidating, threatening or coercing a voter to cast their ballot for a particular candidate or issue is a severity level 7 nonperson felony regardless of where it takes place.

A university might be considered a bastion of free speech, but it gets curtailed when people are there to vote. It is a class C misdemeanor to wear a sticker or carry a sign that clearly identifies a candidate within a radius of 250 feet from the entrance to the polling place. A church might enjoy the right to peacefully assemble, yet only can stand within 3 feet of any table being used by an election board if given permission by the supervising judge.

Clearly, election laws already apply at all polling places -- whether public or private facilities. We would guess guns, at least concealed carry weapons, are about to become part of the election day routine.

The interesting question is whether all the temporary locations are willing to allow weapons on their premises for voting when they normally would not. These sites could decide the risks aren't worth it, and simply decide not to allow polling places to be established.

Alternatively, site managers could decide the risk is worth it -- if the county election office is willing to pay significantly more for the infrequent leases.

Either way, county officers might be scrambling in advance of the next election. The sooner they receive clarification on the latest unintended consequence of the Legislature's action, the better.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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