Federal subpoenas issued to the North Carolina’s State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement are requesting an unprecedented amount of voter information. This is causing backlash from the State Board of Elections, which has promised to fight the subpoenas.
The purpose of the State Board is to administrate the elections process, and oversee campaign finance, ethics and lobbying disclosure and compliance. The agency which was created in 2017 as the result of merging the former State Board of Elections, State Ethics Commission and the Lobbying Compliance Division of the Secretary of State’s Office.
The bipartisan State Board voted unanimously on Aug. 31 to allow North Carolina’s Attorney General Office to move to defend against the subpoenas. They also voted unanimously to have the office represent the county level Boards of Elections for the same purpose.
This isn’t about resisting investigations into voter fraud or other similarly illegal acts, but about concerns over a federal overreach, according to Joshua Malcolm. Malcolm is a vice-chair of the board and a lawyer at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
“This board will…not stand idly by and consent to any agency attempting to obtain records and documents that violate the principles of overreach by the federal government, as in this circumstance,” said Malcolm, according to NC Policy Watch.
The subpoenas, which were sent to the 44 county Boards of Elections in Eastern North Carolina, requested a lengthy list of documents from a period starting in Aug. 30, 2013 to Aug. 30th, 2018. This list includes all poll books, voting records and voter authorization documents among others. The subpoena sent to the State Board asked for voter registration applications and federal write-in absentee ballots, among other documents. This caused election officials and journalists to report that the federal requests could have compromised the privacy of more than 2.2 million voters.
Election officials allege that the United States Attorney General’s Office didn’t warn them ahead of time, but instead merely sent in the requests and expected their demands would be met. This is despite the fact that Andy Penry, the board chairman, has a phone number that is possible to find after a simple Google search.
It took extensive media criticism to eventually get any discussion of a compromise, which came in the form of a barrage of coverage from various newspapers and resulted in a letter written by the Assistant U.S. Attorney who made the requests in the first place, Sebastian Kielmanovich.
In the letter, Kielmanovich outlined a compromise that, if enacted, would help protect the confidentiality of voters while also ensuring that the information acquired would be satisfactory for the purposes of the Justice Department’s investigation. Even with this compromise being relevant, officials remain wary of the intentions behind the subpoenas, and believe that the new specifications in the compromise letter are too wide to be abided by.
This investigation and these requests come in the wake of an investigation which ended with 19 foreign nationals being indicted for voting illegally. However, election experts say that these requests could be considerably more narrow if that is what the subpoenas are in reference to, especially since ICE is one of the agencies that has asked for information.