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Justice Department demands millions of North Carolina voting records 60 days before Election Day

Local officials say the multiple subpoenas risk their ability to prepare for midterm elections this November


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Shira Tarlo
September 6, 2018 4:47pm (UTC)

Federal prosecutors appointed by President Donald Trump have issued multiple subpoenas demanding that millions of North Carolina voter records be turned over to immigration authorities – a move local officials said risks their ability to prepare for midterm elections this November.

The office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina issued the broad subpoenas on Aug. 31 on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as part of the Trump administration's inquiry into voter fraud. The request covers eight years worth of data — more than 15 million state documents and roughly 5.6 million individual records from 44 counties — and has a deadline of Sept. 25, according to the N.C. State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

There motivation behind the sweeping request remains unclear, which is only listed by the board as "Consideration of subpoenas issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina."

The subpoena asks the state records office to provide "any and all voter registration applications and/or other documents, as identified below, that were submitted to, filed by, received by, or maintained by the North Carolina State Board of Elections from January 1, 2010, through August 30, 2018, within any of the counties in North Carolina."

State Board of Elections and Ethics attorney Josh Lawson said in a letter to the Justice Department that the subpoenas faxed to individual county boards "were the most exhaustive on record" and would "materially affect" their ability to prepare for upcoming election this November.

Lawson also asked the Justice Department to revise the request and consider extensions for counties due to the administrative strain required to comply with the sweeping subpoenas. An assistant U.S. attorney responded that requests for extensions would be considered individually, provided they came with a written commitment not to destroy the requested information.

North Carolina has seven million registered voters among its population of 10.2 million, according to the state board.

The requests may be part of a grand jury investigation that charged or indicted 19 foreigners of illegally registering to vote or illegally voting in the 2016 election in the eastern district of North Carolina. Most of the recent subpoenas target counties in eastern North Carolina – the territory for U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon's office.

In a statement, the Justice Department said: "The indictments follow an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) as part of a newly created Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force (DBFTF) in the Eastern District of North Carolina."

Wake County Commissioner John Burns, a Democrat, wrote to Higdon, a Trump appointee, asking him to elaborate on "the scope and timing of this extraordinary request" and to offer an explanation for the request to circumvent the perception that the investigation was a "partisan effort to interfere with the vote."

Trump has previously claimed, without offering evidence, that voter fraud was a pervasive problem in the 2016 presidential election and that an undisclosed number of undocumented immigrants voted illegally, helping his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton win the popular vote.

A Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity launched during Trump's first year in office — and led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — was disbanded in January after it uncovered no evidence to support the administration's claims of widespread voter fraud. Following the commission's demise, Trump said the commission's work would be transferred to the Department of Homeland Security, of which ICE is a part.

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Shira Tarlo

Contact Shira Tarlo at shira.tarlo@salon.com. Follow @shiratarlo.

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