One in a frequent series of stories examining Maine’s election system.

With political tensions running high, voter security has become a priority at Maine polling places.

President Trump recently urged his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully,” leaving some voters worried they could face harassment, interference and intimidation – including from those who may brandish firearms – when they go to the polls on Election Day.

Maine, like most U.S. states, has a long history of free, fair and open elections, but top law enforcement and election officials here are also preparing to maintain the peace and protect voters’ rights.

Here’s what you need to know about polling place security in Maine:

What are Maine officials doing to ensure polling place security?

Both state and federal laws protect voters from interference and intimidation, and law enforcement around the U.S., including the FBI, has been planning and preparing for worst-case scenarios should polling place protests or disruptions become a flashpoint for violence.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey and Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, with the support of Gov. Janet Mills, have made voting safely and freely a priority this year and have issued written guidance to state and local law enforcement agencies and local election officials highlighting state law and their responsibilities to maintain order and protect public safety during the election.

Will polling places be staffed by police on Election Day?

It is not a requirement under state law, but local municipal officials can determine where they want a law enforcement presence. Portland, for example, will not staff its polling places with police officers, but patrols near and around polling places will be increased on Election Day, according to Jessica Grondin, spokeswoman for the city.  She said both plainclothes and uniformed police will be paying special attention to polling places in Maine’s largest city.

Grondin said Portland voters who feel harassed or unsafe while voting are encouraged to call the Police Department at 207-874-8575.

Are people allowed to protest outside of polling places in Maine?

State law does not expressly prohibit an individual’s right to protest outside a polling place, but it also grants broad discretion and authority to individual polling place wardens. Wardens have the authority to enlist police officers to remove or even arrest anyone who is disrupting a polling place or who is seeking to intimidate or interfere with a voter’s free passage to and from the polling place.

Are political signs, banners and flags allowed at polling places?

Generally, no. State law prohibits the display of political advertising of all sorts inside the polling place and in a 250-foot circular exclusion zone around the outside of the polling place.

So what about my “MAGA” hat or my “I’m with Joe” sweatshirt – can I wear that when I go to cast my ballot in Maine?

Yes. Under an advisory issued by Dunlap, voters cannot be turned away for wearing apparel that has a political message on it. But the election warden can require a voter wearing apparel with a political message to leave the polling place area, including the 250-foot exclusion zone, soon after they vote.

“No political advertising is allowed within the 250-foot restricted zone within and around the voting place, and voters wearing such apparel who linger within the zone after voting should be regarded as in violation of these restrictions and instructed to leave,” Dunlap’s memo to election officials states.

Are guns allowed in polling places in Maine?

This depends on the location of the polling place. For polling places on school grounds, firearms are prohibited, even if the school is closed for voting, except in the case of a sworn law enforcement officer. Firearms may be permitted at some polling locations, but those in privately owned facilities, like the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, where all voters of that city cast their ballots, may have their own restrictions on weapons on their premises.

What about in the 250-foot exclusion zone outside of the polling place, can people display or carry firearms there?

Yes. State law allows people who are 21 or older to openly carry firearms in public, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm. Maine law also allows anybody who is 21 or older to carry a concealed handgun without a permit, also only if they are not otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm.

If the exclusion zone is on school grounds, guns are still prohibited.

What if a voter feels threatened by a person carrying a firearm in or outside a polling place?

Again, under Maine election law wardens have broad discretion to maintain order in the polling place, and if a voter complains about an individual with a firearm, then the warden can ask the person carrying the weapon to leave or to store the firearm.

What if they refuse, claiming it’s their 2nd Amendment right to have a gun?

“If any individual or group contests the warden’s directives, the warden has the authority to request that law enforcement intervene and carry out the warden’s directives,” Dunlap’s memo advises election officials.

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