Due to a recent subpoena issued by the Trump administration, North Carolina election officials may be forced to comply with the release of millions of documents related to voting materials.
The subpoena was delivered by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina and was made on behalf of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
ICE has stated that it is an attempt to identify voter fraud in the 44 North Carolina counties affected by the summons, which requested “all poll books, e-poll books, voting records, and/or voter authorization documents, and executed official ballots…from August 30, 2013, through August 30, 2018” from the county election boards, and, “all voter registration applications…admission or denial of non-citizen return forms,” and cancellations to voter registration from the state Board of Elections.
This particular subpoena is the first of its kind to request documents on such an expansive level; if North Carolina is forced to comply, over 5.5 million ballots would be released. 2 million of these are early voting ballots that are traceable to the individual voters.
Many of the counties affected have deferred to district attorneys for counsel, as the subpoena poses a severe threat to the privacy of voters.
While the State Board is scheduled to address the requests on Sept. 20, North Carolinians are voicing their grievances, and election officials are uncomfortable with the information they are being asked to produce. They are concerned that voter faith in their respective boards will be compromised.
If voters feel that their right to privacy has been violated, they will place less trust in their election officials, and may be less likely to vote in future elections. The director of Beaufort County’s Board of Elections, Kellie Hopkins, stated her opinion on the importance of privacy in the voting process to the North Carolina Policy Watch, saying “if [voters] know if somebody knew how they voted, they would not vote.”
Several Board of Elections directors have referenced a North Carolina law that prevents the release of confidential documents pertaining to voters in response to the growing concern of how to manage the federal mandate. However, it has not been determined whether the law will actually override the federal grand jury subpoena.
Although the requests were made by the United States Attorney’s Office on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, their connection to ICE has caused many to speculate on the underlying motives of the subpoena.
On Sept. 12, a law enforcement agent of ICE confirmed that the decrees were made in correlation to the charges brought against 19 foreign-born people accused of voting illegally, nine of which were indicted. Many of President Donald Trump’s claims regarding the prevalence of voter fraud have been proven false, but the rhetoric still resonates within the current administration.
Many voting rights activists believe that President Trump is using the few incidences of illegal voting to blow the issue out of proportion, subsequently sabotaging North Carolina’s upcoming midterm elections by attempting to reduce voter turnout in the name of fraud prevention.
Allison Riggs, the Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, has called the ICE subpoenas a “fishing expedition,” and criticizes the alleged attempt of the Trump administration to burden local officials with requests during time that would otherwise be devoted to preparing for the approaching elections.
Riggs also comments on the irony of the mandate, saying that “an administration that has benefited from foreign election interference is now seeking to burden local election administrators…in their efforts to safeguard against…interference in the upcoming election.”
With elections coming up, North Carolinians have a right to speak out if they feel that their own voting rights or the voting rights of others are being violated.