Can I Carry my Handgun at Virginia’s Polls?
One of the more frequent inquiries from clients this time of year involves the legality of open and concealed carry at polling places. There are two distinct components to our answer in these situations: what does the law stipulate; and, what do we advise? Our job as your law firm is to advise you on your legal rights, and also to provide you legal and sometimes practical advice that extends beyond the nuts and bolts of the Code of Virginia, the Code of West Virginia, and federal election law.
The short answer is that election law does not directly relate to your ability to carry in or near a polling place. The space in which you vote is controlled by the owner or the lessee of the polling place, so anywhere it is legal to otherwise carry, it is legal to carry on election day.
Here are the specifics:
- Schools – Concealed and open carry on all public and private K-12 school property is prohibited by law (with the Virginia exceptions detailed by USDLaw partner Graven Craig elsewhere on the site). If your polling place is on school property, you may not carry. You may place your unloaded gun in a secure container within the vehicle prior to entering the property and leave it secured in place while you go in to vote. A CHP is not required to do so.
- Firehouses/Rescue Squad facilities – Some of these facilities are privately owned by the squad’s corporations. As such they are within their rights to post ‘no guns’ signs. Failure to comply would result in a trespass charge. Most facilities are county/city/town owned and are covered under the Commonwealth’s preemption statute, meaning carry is legal.
- Other local government buildings — eg. public libraries, county office buildings are also covered by preemption. Carry is legal in these polling places.
- Private property – any property owner may post ‘no gun’ signs prohibiting carry. This includes churches and church properties. Once informed, failure to comply could result in a trespass charge.
- State owned buildings – Concealed and open carry is prohibited in all courthouses and any buildings controlled by the Executive Branch, such as DMVs. Carry inside a court building is a Class I Misdemeanor. With regard to Executive buildings covered by the Governor’s executive order, signs should be posted and failure to comply results in a trespass charge.
In summary, you cannot carry in Court buildings, many State buildings, or any K-12 public or private school. You may also not carry on these properties outside of polling places if working as a campaign volunteer outside the 40-foot perimeter designated for political activity. You may carry your handgun in all other local government buildings including public libraries, and you may carry in all private buildings unless they are otherwise posted with signage indicating no guns.
Now to the practical: Political tensions are high this year, and both major parties are already talking about ‘voter intimidation’. In some Virginia localities, open carry seems as normal as chewing gum. In others, it causes unjustified concern or fear. Assuming you possess a valid CHP, the choice to carry concealed or open is a personal one. Virginia Code prohibits persons who “hinder, intimidate, or interfere with any qualified voter” and makes such offenses a Class 1 Misdemeanor.
§ 24.2-607. Prohibited conduct; intimidation of voters; disturbance of election; how prevented; penalties.
A. It shall be unlawful for any person to hinder, intimidate, or interfere with any qualified voter so as to prevent the voter from casting a secret ballot.
In our opinion, open carrying does not meet the criteria for an offense under this statute; having said this, open carrying increases the risk that an anti-carry citizen or poll worker will complain of intimidation, resulting in the harassment of clients who choose to carry openly in the polls. A more prudent decision might well be to carry concealed while voting or working outside the polls as a campaign volunteer. Should any of our clients encounter unprovoked harassment from polling officials or law enforcement related to the legal carry of your handgun on Election Day, please contact us via the 24 hour emergency hotline.
***USDLaw legal briefs are normally posted exclusively for our clients. Due to the importance of this topic and in the interest of public service, this content is being made available without a client login. We make no warranty of this content as legal advice to non-clients. To view exclusive ‘clients only’ content, please consider an annual retainer agreement with the firm.