ICE Requests Voting Records From North Carolina
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Immigration and Customs Enforcement is demanding millions of voting records from the state of North Carolina. Federal subpoenas show the agency wants nearly everything from the last five years - poll books, voter authorization forms and completed ballots. But investigators are not saying why. Will Michaels of member station WUNC says the State Board of Elections is fighting back.
WILL MICHAELS, BYLINE: The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina issued the subpoenas on behalf of ICE. That means it went to 44 of North Carolina's local election boards and the State Board of Elections.
PATRICK GANNON: It is an extensive request for records.
MICHAELS: Board spokesman Patrick Gannon says staff did a quick estimate when they got the subpoenas.
GANNON: More than 5 million ballots have been requested from the counties, and roughly 15 million - probably more than 15 million documents and images have been requested from the state board.
MICHAELS: So why so many documents, and why is it coming from ICE? The U.S. attorney's office has declined to comment, but voting rights advocates are connecting their own dots.
JOHN CARELLA: It does seem that the timing is suspicious in terms of using this as a way to try to find some, any substantiation for allegations of voter fraud.
MICHAELS: John Carella is an attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. He's talking about a recent indictment of 19 people accused of falsely claiming to be U.S. citizens in order to vote in North Carolina during the 2016 election. The same attorneys who were prosecuting that case signed off on these subpoenas.
CARELLA: It does appear to be a fishing expedition for information that maybe is based on that very small number of indictments that they already have and just casting a very, very broad net.
ANDY PENRY: This is Andy Penry. I'm the chair of the Board of Elections. I'm calling the meeting September 7, 2018 to order...
MICHAELS: In a hastily called teleconference this week, Penry, a Democrat, threw up his hands at the subpoenas.
PENRY: We have not been given a reason as to why ICE wants that information. And, candidly, I can't think of any reason for it. But, presumably, the United States attorney or ICE has some reason that they can explain to someone eventually.
MICHAELS: Democratic board member Joshua Malcolm called the request overly broad, unreasonable and vague. Malcolm called on the state attorney general to do everything he can to quash the subpoenas.
JOSHUA MALCOLM: This board will, as required by our fiduciary responsibilities as state election officials, not stand idly by and consent to an agency attempting to obtain records and documents that violate the principles of overreach by the federal government.
MICHAELS: The board, which has four Democrats, four Republicans and one unaffiliated, passed the motion unanimously. This isn't the first development that's raised legal questions about North Carolina elections. A federal court recently ruled the state's congressional maps are gerrymandered in favor of Republicans, and various lawsuits have challenged a voter ID referendum that'll be on the ballot this fall.
For NPR News, I'm Will Michaels in Chapel Hill, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.