The NCLBC shall exercise unified political power for the betterment of people of color and consequently, all North Carolinians.

NC officials haven’t handed over massive trove of voter data to feds

January 16th, 2019

— A demand from the U.S. Department of Justice for data on almost 3 million registered North Carolina voters has so far gone unanswered by state officials, despite a deadline to produce the records that passed this week.

State Board of Elections General Counsel Josh Lawson said neither his office nor any of the county elections boards have provided any documents in response to subpoenas from the office of U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon. The subpoenas were originally issued in September and demanded eight years’ worth of data on voters in 44 counties, including executed ballots, as part of a grand jury investigation involving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Complying would have required state and local boards, as well as the state Division of Motor Vehicles, to hand over 20 million records on more than one-third of the state’s registered voters just six weeks before the November election. Mounting concern over the demand prompted Justice Department attorneys days later to delay the production deadline until Jan. 14, clarify they wanted only redacted documents and offer to scale back the request.

The back-and-forth over the subpoenas comes amid an ongoing state investigation into absentee ballot irregularities in the 9th Congressional District that prompted North Carolina election officials to postpone the certification of the 2018 race. Investigators with the state elections board raised concerns about those irregularities with federal officials several times in 2018 after noticing patterns that prompted suspicions in past elections, but it’s unclear how Higdon’s office responded.

9th Congressional District map

That investigation came up Tuesday in Washington, D.C., during the confirmation hearing of William Barr, President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, noting the possibility that the Justice Department may have “failed to take action,” asked Barr how he would avoid such failures in the future.

“I want to make one of my priorities the integrity of elections,” Barr said. “So, this is not an area I have been involved with deeply before, and when I get to the department – if I’m confirmed – I’m going to start working with the people and making sure that those kinds of things don’t happen.”

Barr faced additional questions from U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, about the North Carolina subpoenas and whether the nominee would continue to use department resources to require “millions of voter records to be turned over to ICE” as head of the agency.

“I don’t know what information triggered that review,” Barr said. “When I go into the department, I’ll be able to discern whether that’s a bona fide investigation, and if it is, I’m not going to stop it.”

With that deadline for the state to produce documents in response to the 2018 subpoenas come and gone, it’s unclear what will happen next.

The case is now in the hands of the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office, and Lawson said his office is operating on the assumption that the state’s top lawyer is seeking to quash the subpoena.

DMV spokesman Steve Abbott referred questions to the Attorney General’s Office.

Laura Brewer, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Josh Stein, said the office has been in regular communication with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and has been keeping them “closely apprised,” but declined to comment further.

U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Don Connelly also declined to comment.

The original grand jury subpoenas to state elections officials, local election boards and the DMV included all 44 of the North Carolina counties in the federal Eastern District of North Carolina. They requested, among other things, voter registration applications from people born outside the U.S. or completed in languages other than English, as well as poll books and executed official ballots.

Writing to Lawson in early September, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sebastian Kielmanovich agreed to postpone compliance until January assuming that all records requested were preserved. He also noted that “to the extent that ballots are produced, we ask that the actual vote information be redacted, to the greatest extent possible.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office hasn’t commented on the direction of the investigation, nor do the subpoenas say specifically what they’re looking for. But the subpoenas listed Kielmanovich and ICE Special Agent Jahaira Torrens as contacts, and both federal officials were involved in an August case that resulted in federal voting fraud charges against 19 foreign nationals.

Counties subpoenaed

In subpoenas dated Aug. 31, the U.S. Department of Justice demanded five years of voter data from 44 county election boards, as well as an eight-year request for the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. The counties, which include Wake, make up the eastern part of the state with high concentrations of minority voters.

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