Firearms are generally not allowed at the polls while voters are casting ballots in Texas. But with some limited exceptions, presiding election judges who are licensed to carry may bring their guns to polling places, Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a nonbinding opinion Monday.
Presiding election judges, who are generally civilians appointed by local party officials to head up a team of poll workers, do everything from settling election disputes to doling out “I Voted” stickers. They’re charged with keeping their polling places calm, and they have “the power of a district judge to enforce order and preserve the peace,” according to Texas election law.
Paxton cited Hooks v. State, a 1913 case before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals where it was ruled that since district judges can carry firearms to polling places and election judges had been given the authority of district judges, election judges “likewise had the authority to do so.”
“A court today would likely follow the analysis in Hooks when construing the statutes in their current form,” Paxton wrote.
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Still, the attorney general noted that there are some polling places where even election judges would likely be blocked from carrying firearms — for example, polling places on certain campuses and on private property where guns are prohibited and proper notice has been given.
Paxton’s opinion, which lays out the reasoning he believes a court would take but is not legally binding, comes in response to a lawmaker’s inquiry. In March, on the eve of the primary elections, state Rep. James White, R-Hillister, asked Paxton whether licensed election judges could come armed to the polls. White cited safety concerns from election judges who work long hours in “rural areas in which local law enforcement must provide public safety with limited manpower over vast areas.”
Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, slammed the opinion, criticizing Paxton for "turning polling locations into O.K. Corral."