The right to vote is an aspect of American life we all take for granted. We expect to be able to show up at our polling place every other fall and cast our ballot for the candidates we believe will best represent us in our local government, in the state legislature, or in Washington, DC. That is, unless you are a uniformed police officer attempting to exercise your right to vote at a voting precinct in Bangor, Maine supervised by an idiot.
James Dearing, a Bangor, Maine police officer, showed up two weeks ago – in his regular uniform — to cast an in-person absentee ballot at Bangor Civic Center; the only early voting location in the city. He had voted many times in the past with no problem.
Upon entering the polling place, however, Dearing was confronted by Wayne Mallar, the election warden, and told to surrender his weapon to another officer before he would be permitted to vote. Dearing declined, and was not allowed to cast his ballot.
On-duty police officers had been voting for years without incident. Despite this, the reasoning for Mallar’s request, according to a letter written by Dearing to Maine’s Secretary of State, was that the presence of a firearm “may influence other voters.” Mallar explained also he was concerned for the “safety” of other voters.
Every campaign cycle we read stories about voters being asked to leave polling places after showing up wearing campaign propaganda. There was even an instance a few weeks ago where First Lady Michelle Obama openly campaigned at a Chicago polling place during early voting; well within the 100 foot limit, although no poll workers said anything to her. But the incident in Bangor appears to be a first – a uniformed police officer denied the right to vote simply because he was carrying a gun; something he is required to do while on duty.
To his credit, Officer Dearing declined to make an issue over the incident at the polling place, but did raise it thereafter. And, to their credit, polling officials more knowledgeable and intelligent than Mallar declared that Dearing certainly would be permitted to vote, in or out of uniform and whether carrying his sidearm or not. Importantly, they relieved Mallar of his duties as a polling warden, at least for last Tuesday’s election.
While this incident was resolved properly, it raises serious questions about the power permitted to be wielded by petty officials, who are neither knowledgeable of the law nor sufficiently versed in common sense to understand that a police officer is supposed to carry a firearm.