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Nessel: State police will enforce voting laws on Election Day if sheriffs won't

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Michigan will send state troopers into voting areas where they believe local sheriffs will not enforce laws prohibiting voter intimidation, Attorney General Dana Nessel said Sunday on Showtime's "The Circus." 

The comments came after Nessel was asked about whether she could rely on elected local sheriffs to enforce voter intimidation and security laws given Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf's relationship with militia groups and other sheriffs' lack of support for previous executive orders. 

"If you have a county sheriff that seems to be sympathetic to any of these organizations and we think they're not going to enforce the laws, then we'll get somebody else who will, the Michigan State Police," Nessel said. 

"Every place in the state of Michigan, there will be law enforcement that believe that voters need to be protected."

Attorney General Dana Nessel said in an interview with Showtime that state police would intervene on Election Day in areas where a county sheriff refuses to enforce voter intimidation laws.

After the interview aired Sunday, Nessel's spokeswoman, Kelly Rossman-McKinney, noted state police report to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

"But we have already met with them to discuss partnering on enforcement, and they have agreed to assist us," Rossman-McKinney said. "We are committed to ensuring that every voter feels safe and secure."

Shanon Banner, a spokeswoman for the Michigan State Police, weighed in, saying: "I won’t get into speculation about enforcement action, but the Michigan State Police does have statewide jurisdiction."

Nessel also told "The Circus" she had to be ready for "every possible scenario."

"We don't want people to harass voters when they are in the process of exercising what is a fundamental right, which is their right to vote," she said. "I feel like it's my job to do everything I can to make sure there is a safe and secure vote, and I'm very hopeful that law enforcement will agree."

The interview, filmed Wednesday, does not directly address the idea of enforcement of the open carry ban announced Friday by Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. 

The prohibition would stop people from the open carry of firearms within 100 feet of polling locations, in clerk's office, inside polling locations or at absent voter counting boards. 

Nessel's office said Friday that it was likely the ban would be enforced under a variety of laws, including the voter intimidation statutes that state police would be enforcing in the stead of sheriff department's unwilling to do so.

The National Rifle Association on Friday condemned the directive from Benson, and Michigan Open Carry indicated it was contemplating a lawsuit. 

Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy said Friday he would not enforce the ban. He also did not enforce Whitmer's executive orders during the pandemic. 

"An order is an order and, quite frankly, is unenforceable," he said. "They have no authority to supersede law.”

Murphy said he will have additional staff on hand in the case of disturbances at polling locations, but he didn't expect they would need to be used.

"You vote where you live," he said. "The chances of having an outside influence come in and be disruptive, I don’t see that happening.”

The Michigan Sheriffs Association said Friday it was advising elected sheriffs to consult with their counsels and local prosecutors about Benson’s decision, said Matt Saxton, CEO and executive director of the association. 

"It kind of puts law enforcement in the middle of this issue,” Saxton said. “Currently, law enforcement will have to follow the laws of the state of Michigan pertaining to polling stations and whether guns are allowed or not allowed.”

eleblanc@detroitnews.com