ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey said he has no reason to believe there are any credible threats of violence at the polls next Tuesday, but police will be ready – just in case.
“We’ll have plenty of police out there. You won’t notice it, but we will be close by. I encourage people to feel safe to go vote,” the sheriff said.
Bailey met by Zoom on Friday morning with area police chiefs, and, “We have no concerns right now. We feel good about it.”
Bridgman Police Chief Daniel Unruh echoed that.
“I don’t really have any heightened concerns regarding Tuesday’s election. I can assure all of our residents who exercise their right to vote that our polling location will be safe, as it has always been in the past,” Unruh said. “Our department has always been readily available in the event of the city clerk, any of the volunteers or voters needing anything or encountering any problems.”
Bailey said that as a precaution, he is putting out extra patrols on Tuesday dedicated solely to safety at the polls. He said police will not be visibly present at voting precincts, but will be very nearby to respond quickly if needed.
“The chiefs are going to have extra cars on. We’re all taking precautions, and extra steps just to be safe. I think we’re well off,” Bailey said.
Sheriff Bailey said that with area clerks reporting record numbers of absentee ballots pouring in, he does not expect big crowds at polling places.
He said his department’s own Intel, working with the FBI, know of no credible threat of violence. He said they’ve been unable to verify the validity of an alleged online threat that the Proud Boys, a radical white supremacist hate group, are coming to Benton Harbor on Tuesday.
And, he stressed, police will not be arresting people on warrants at the polling places.
Benton Harbor Public Safety Director Daniel McGinnis agreed.
“There has been, and continues to be, no intelligence from any government intelligence source of any threat in Benton Harbor whatsoever,” McGinnis said. “Myself and Clerk Thompson have been in constant contact with each other and the secretary of state and the Michigan State Police Intelligence Unit.”
One Benton Harbor city official is calling for Election Day to be a day of amnesty, with police agreeing not to arrest anyone on a warrant for a non-violent offense.
McGinnis says that’s not necessary.
“No, we do not check people at any polls. We have never, nor do we intend to start, running voter names at the polls. We don’t even have officers at polling sites. It has been the policy of my administration to take a soft approach to voter precincts,” McGinnis said.
“Uniformed officers posted at polls are inherently intimidating. We don’t want to cause any undue attention from what is important, which is citizens exercising their right to vote,” he added.
Regarding the report of the alleged Proud Boys threat, McGinnis said, “This all seems to be a manufactured ploy, to what end I do not know. An amnesty day is irrelevant due to the fact that we don’t have officers posted at polling places. And obviously, if there are no officers there, they can’t run any names.”