Following the shooting in Parkland, a growing number of young people have committed themselves to participate in our democratic process. Data show that in the first eight months of 2018, 450,000 Floridians registered to vote — a quarter of whom are between the ages of 18 and 24.
Regardless of where we stand on the issues, we can all agree that every U.S. citizen deserves to have their voice heard. Anyone who wants to do their civic duty can and is able to access the polls without any kind of intimidation.
Voter intimidation is any concerted effort to coerce the voting behavior of a group of voters and it’s a federal crime. Intimidating someone with a firearm at a polling place is illegal.
In 2016, we saw numerous instances of people bringing firearms to the polls and given our divisive political climate, it’s not improbable that we may experience similar acts of intimidation come November. The president’s characterization of his political opponents as “an angry left-wing mob” who “oppose law and order, fairness, freedom and justice” only heightens the threat.
The problem is, states around the country have different rules and regulations when it comes to bringing firearms to the polling place. According to the nonprofit Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, only six states — Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas — have clear laws that generally prohibit guns in polling places. Florida also prohibits people from openly carrying firearms in public.
But in light of the focus on gun issues in Florida this election season, the intensity the issue generates among some who carry firearms, and the growing hostility in our political discussion, a group of nonpartisan organizations, including the two we lead, are launching an educational campaign called Guns Down at the Polls to ensure everyone can safely exercise their right to vote.
As part of our effort, we’re running Facebook and Instagram ads in key areas of the country, including Florida, to educate voters about their rights and empower them to take action.
If you see someone at your local polling place attempting to suppress voter turnout with a firearm, find somewhere safe and text GUNSDOWN to 91990. Your information will be passed on to the Lawyer’s Committee on Civil Rights, who will be able to take further action.
By working together to keep voting safe, we can make sure that everyone can participate in our great democracy.
Andy Pelosi is the co-chair of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. Igor Volsky is the executive director of Guns Down America, an organization dedicated to building a future with fewer guns.